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Beyond Words

When we think of communication we usually think of verbal activities. But communication is much more than words alone. I read somewhere that 70% of all communication is non-verbal. Tone of voice, pitch, rhythm, gestures – all contribute to meaning. In fact without them the words themselves are usually not enough. Consider the word "great". By changing my tone of voice I can communicate a wide range of feelings from happiness, through boredom to displeasure. This time around I’d like to introduce some co-operative activities to get kids used this idea.

Silence is Golden

Do some activities – silently. Communal jigsaw activities, sorting and ordering activities work well (for example ordering flashcards alphabetically), anything that involves interaction. Challenging the children to achieve the goal silently focuses on non-verbal communication. It is also useful for team building. Co-operating in silence gives a sense of camaraderie. By silently I mean without any noise at all!

When doing silent activities think about the structure of the activity. Create a situation in which the children are taking turns or interacting with each other rather than indulging in a free for all. For example, if a small group are doing a jigsaw distribute the pieces. Make it a rule that a child can not place one of their own pieces but can point to another child and indicate where a piece goes. Alternatively let the children place their pieces in order, one at a time, allowing passes. The point is to use a clear structure so the children know what to do and can concentrate on communicating. Use a timer to give more structure. Sometimes I play music to indicate the duration of the game.

The Clapping Game

This is a cheerful team-building game. Players form groups of 4-6 members. One member of each group becomes a seeker and leaves the room. The group now decide on an object that the seeker can easily find and touch. The seekers return and try and find the object their group has selected. A group can help a seeker by clapping – low and silently if the seeker is ‘cold’ (far from the object); louder and faster as the seeker gets warmer (nearer the object). When the seeker finds the object the whole team celebrates giving the seeker a cheer and a hug or pat on the back. Give everyone a chance to be a seeker.


Play in pairs or small groups. Choose 5-6 known flashcards, animals or occupations. One player takes a card, looks at it and says "Hello." The other players try and guess from tone of voice alone what the player is. Regardless of whether the guess is right or wrong the player goes onto the next card. Let each player do 3-4 "hellos" in a row before swapping roles.

Hand Mimes

Use with known vocabulary. In turn players take a flashcard and mime it. But rather than doing a full body mime players should do hand and arm gestures only. Other players can guess verbally. Alternatively make it a silent game by giving the guessers a duplicate set of flashcards. In turn they can present a card to the mimer until the matching card is found. When the children get good at this challenge them to do hand mimes alone (without arm movements).

Bomb Squad (for older children?)

You’ll need some small objects, coins or counters to play this game. Or for extra realism get some short bits of wire. These are the fuses. The fuses should easily be hidden in the hand.

Before playing the game get the all the children to practise exploding! Have the children freeze in position. Start a countdown. When zero is reached they can explode shouting "bang!" "boom" or any other explosive phrase.

To play the actual game the children divide into two groups, one third of them become bomb disposal experts. The others become the bomb! For each bomb disposal expert use one fuse. The bomb disposal experts leave the room or close their eyes. The bomb players now decide who will hide the fuses. They then become the bomb by making a shape, linking arms, standing, sitting etc. Now the bomb disposal experts return. Their job is to find all the fuses by examining the bomb. One at a time the experts chose a hand to open. If the hand contains a fuse the expert is safe but if the hand is empty the expert is stuck to the bomb. The bomb is disarmed if all the fuses are found. But if all the experts become stuck the bomb goes off…

Decide in advance whether the bomb is going to help the bomb disposal experts or not! Any member of the bomb can give information by using facial expressions alone! The bomb members are not allowed to move their bodies or gesture with their heads. When players get good at the basic game introduce the countdown rule. Agree on a countdown number. Now when a bomb disposal expert gets stuck the bomb player concerned starts the countdown, counting down slowly. Gradually as other bomb disposal experts get stuck other bomb players join in. Now the bomb disposal experts must find all the fuses before the count down reaches zero…

Get Off Gorilla!

Finally here is a variant on Uh-uh (see my column in the previous issue). To prepare the game copy the cards and colour the bananas. You'll need one set of cards per player. The game is played in pairs. Each player takes their cards and places them face down on the table. Players play the game by turning over their partner’s cards. The aim is to find a matching pair. Players each turn over one card at the same time. If the colours match the bananas are won. If the colours are different the bananas are returned face down. If either player turns over a gorilla the game is over, the gorilla takes all the remaining bananas. Players can communicate with head movements, grunts, whistles, anything except real words! Can the players get all the bananas? To encourage rapid play, use a time limit. For additional challenge play in groups of three or four. Each player turns over cards belonging to another player. A match is made when all the cards turned over are the same.

Get oFf Gorilla Cards

Finally – remember to give feedback. Talk with children and praise them when they have done something well. This is important with all activities but even more so with non-verbal ones. Let the children know how well they are doing. Communicate!

January 2001
Altogether Now - Communication
Column in Teachers Learning with Children
The Newsletter of the JALT Teaching Children SIG

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