These are unprecedented times, and nowhere is this more apparent than in our public schools. Each district is responding differently: virtual instruction, face-to-face instruction, or a hybrid approach. With situations so varied, I would like to offer a versatile strategy that will work across teaching formats, across grade levels, across content areas, and across disability categories.
We know that offering our students multiple opportunities to respond (OTR) should increase their learning and decrease disruptive behavior. Verbal and written OTRs can be powerful, but might also prove problematic if your class represents a broad spectrum of speaking and writing abilities. Gestural responses offer a better means of leveling the playing field and allowing all students an equitable means of responding.
Here are 4 simple ways to use gestural responses as OTRs that engage, teach, and assess your diverse groups of students.
Let’s start with what is likely the most commonly used gestural response. You can ask an opinion question and ask students to give you a thumbs up (agree) or thumbs down (disagree). This response type not only allows the entire class to simultaneously interact with the lesson, but it carries the potential of multiple repetitions per minute. You can also use this response type for true/false questions, but the open-ended nature of agree/disagree seems more powerful. Don’t hesitate to follow-up by calling on a few students to discuss why they responded as they did.
Kids love to give their opinions on things. Maybe you want to ask students how they feel about a character in a story, how they feel about their personal understanding of order of operations, or how they feel about a historical event that you are studying. Encourage students to respond with facial expressions that express how they feel. You might also ask students to respond with a living emoji, which involves acting out their favorite emoji. This strategy is sure to hold the attention of your learners while allowing a high volume of opportunities to respond.
Multiple Choice Responses
This strategy assigns a gesture or movement to each response choice. It is similar to the thumbs up/thumbs down, but more versatile. For example, during a fact vs. opinion lesson you might ask students to point at their brains for a fact or wave their arms for an opinion. If you are doing a categorization lesson, you could incorporate sign language. Maybe you will hold up some items and ask your class to identify if they are “hard” or “soft.”
This may be the most simple gestural response to offer your class. Assign a single gesture such as raising a hand, blinking eyes rapidly, hopping up and down, or opening the mouth. Ask students to use the gesture to identify a targeted concept. For example, students can perform the gesture whenever they hear a verb in a reading passage or a prime number in a string of numerals.
Top Tips for Incorporating Gestures into Your Instruction:
- Use gestures across situations. They work in face-face, virtual (synchronous), or hybrid settings.
- To achieve equity, use gestures that can be performed by every student in your class.
- Account for processing time by asking the entire class to perform their gestures in unison.
- Encourage students to suggest gestures.
- Don’t be afraid to be silly. If the students are engaged, they are learning!