Embrace your inner Lionel Blair and add these 15 gestures to your arsenal of behaviour management techniques

A collection of emoji-style icons showing hand and head movements

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Any one of these 15 gestures will keep your class in check and save your vocal chords

The basis of good teaching is clarity of expression. When a teacher struggles with the behaviour of a class, their instructions become hesitant, their body language defensive and uncertain. Lots of things come out of their mouth but, as far as the students are concerned, they’re not really saying anything.

By contrast, a confident teacher conveys clear and decisive messages, seamlessly controlling behaviour without uttering a word. As well as reducing strain on their overworked voice, non-verbal signals depersonalise situations where conflict might potentially arise. A certain glance or hand movement can help avoid drawing attention to an individual student’s misbehaviour. Dealing with issues discreetly helps to make sure that some attention-seeking pupils are denied the audience they crave.

In my experience, non-verbal strategies are central to effective communication and behaviour management. Here are 15 essential gestures I recommend adopting to ensure your lessons run more smoothly and to improve relationships with your students:

Emojis showing common gestures

1. Shush: A classic non-intrusive way of requesting silence. Far more effective than scattergun shushing, it is best deployed when only one or two pupils are still talking.

2. The earlobe wiggle: You’re in the middle of an explanation when you notice a rogue off-tasker, fiddling with a pen. Simply wiggle the earlobe back and forth and, hey presto, you have their attention.

3. Gentle headshake: Proactive and preventative, this gentle side-to-side headshake offers a subtle rebuke to a student on the edge of misbehaviour: ‘don’t even think about doing what you’re thinking of doing.’

4. The finger-wag: If you catch them in the middle of doing something untoward, however, it’s time to implement this more forceful dramatic gesture, which signals they must immediately desist.

5. The up-down finger: Through this little movement, you can display your magical telekinetic powers. A single finger, waved up and down, will miraculously place a child in their seat, like a puppet on a string.

6. The slow-down flap: The post-break bell goes and you hear your class charging hyperactively down the corridor. This movement – two hands waved downwards simultaneously – indicates that now is the time for quiet and learning.

7. Thumbs-up: A universally understood way of saying well done. Particularly useful when you want to reward the efforts of peer-influenced boys who prefer subtle recognition rather than loud proclamations of praise.

8. The book mime: Unleash your inner Lionel Blair (young NQTs, ask your parents) and pretend you’ve stepped in to a game of charades. Yes, it’s a book. And, yes, I want you to open yours now.

9. The air pen: You spot a student who’s drifted away from their written work and is staring into space. Just hold an imaginary pen betwixt your thumb and index and scribble furiously. Soon they’ll be writing away.

10. Tap: As you circulate the room, off-task students can be directed back to the task with a few brisk but authoritative taps on their exercise book.

Emojis showing common gestures


11. The finger spin: When students are facing the wrong way, it’s time to imagine you’re a traffic cop. Use this signal and they’ll be performing a 180° U-turn, then paying attention once more.

12. The move-it fingers: Effort levels are noticeably sluggish. So it’s now time to adopt the role of a football referee signalling to a time-wasting player. Get a move on or you’re going in my book!

13. Step-and-fold: Ideally accompanied with a theatrical step backwards, this body language communicates your clear frustration to a class, letting them know that you’ve had enough of waiting.

14. The stare: Sometimes, when you’re really annoyed, it’s time to unveil the deadliest weapon in a teacher’s arsenal: the thousand-yard stare. Sterner than Medusa on a bad day, it leaves little doubt about your feelings.

15. The beckoning finger: On the playground or in the corridor, you need to address a student’s behaviour without attracting the attention of the crowd. A curled, beckoning finger is all that is required; walk this way young man/lady.

These gestures offer invaluable solutions to a wide range of behaviour issues. Employing non-verbal strategies will help promote a more harmonious classroom atmosphere, reducing your stress levels and creating conditions where students are more likely to comply than rebel. Not only do they increase productivity and soothe your ravaged vocal chords, but, best of all, they also make you appear calm and in control. Even when inside you just want to scream.