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Les gestes qui comptent

Some of my blog posts are sparked off my a Twitter reference or chat with other teachers. This is one such post. File it under practical classroom tips.

How do you use your body to help pupils with understanding?

When dictating you can use arms and even your leg for humorous effect to help pupils with written accuracy. Acute, circumflex and grave in French can be done holding your arms at the right angle above your head. Two forward fingers for umlauts or trémas. You can even cock your leg to indicate a c cedilla (ç). (Pupils can also use their own arms to show accents if you give them words.)

Arms are useful for indicating subject pronouns during practice drills. Point to yourself for first person singular, point to left or right for third person singular, point forward with one arm for second singular and two hands for second plural. Use two hands pointing to yourself for first person plural.

Various verbs are easy to demonstrated by use of limbs and body: to dance, to sing, to ride a horse, eat, drink, talk, carry, wear, love, wave, shake, to play tennis/ping-pong/rugby/football/cricket/hockey, to cry, to kick, to pass etc.

Use gesture to indicate illnesses, aches and pains.

Use gesture to indicate height, length, width and weight.

Use pointing gestures to play Simon Says.

Gestures to indicate common nouns: cup, spoon, knife, spade, glass, flower, tree, washing machine, cat (stroking gesture).

Gestures to air spell out letters or words to a class.

Pupils enjoy gesture too and there are plenty of miming style tasks pupils can do in pairs. "Dumb customer" was a favourite of mine. A mute customer has to mime a list of items they wish to buy in the shop while the partner tries to guess them.

Be careful if you use gestures to indicate animals. In a Spanish butcher's, not knowing the word for beef, I indicated horns on my head with fingers and made a bull-like noise. When we put the meat on the barbecue it tuned out to be goat.

Is gesture an aid to acquisition? Surely it must be. It's something we do instinctively for both first and second language acquisition. If you are like me it even becomes an example of what the French call "déformation professionnelle". Namely, you go round speaking to other people using totally unnecessary gestures just because you are, or were, a language teacher!

By the way, there is plenty of research (as well as common sense) to support the idea that pupils and teachers doing gestures can aid learning. Examples: (young children learning vocabulary) (summary of neuroscientific studies) (young learners of maths) (young learners acquiring L2 vocabulary)


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"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

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"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
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