Intro and contents



Reaching out



Gestures in communication

My research 1

My research 2

Student profile

Video of class

Input and output

Output and interlanguage

Gesture and grammar

Eliciting with gesture

Silent period

Fading gesture

Gesture in CLIL



Student profile.

What type of students can we use gestures with?

The student profiles with which gestures in the language classroom are especially well-received are laid out in the list below. However, the teacher may choose to use gesture in a different way depending on the profile type.

  1. Children at kindergarten age and very early primary (up to six years old). Gestures are mostly iconic of objects, adjectives and action verbs. The teacher will probably not gestures full sentences word by word but just selected key meaning words within a sentence. The gestures are straightforward meanings with no requirements to draw on metalinguistic knowledge such as verb conjugation.

  2. Children between the ages of seven and eight years old for introductory courses with instruction continuing to eleven and twelve - a three to four-year course in total. This is the age of the student group in my own research, which you can read about at first research and recent research. I use a lot of gestures that require a metalinguistic knowledge of language during a phase called Silent Sign. For example, learners are asked to conjugate verbs within a sentence from one unique gesture, to distinguish between some and any, etc. >

  3. Children in category 2 who have either not received English instruction previously or who have followed a course that, by its nature, has not been successful in encouraging learners to develop spoken fluency for communicative purposes or where spoken skills are weak compared to explicit knowledge of L2.

  4. Criteria from the above student profiles but within financially impoverished communities with a lack of resources and funding for materials such as student course books, which are not always required as gesture can replace text for much of the instruction time. Gesture activities can occupy large swathes of class time with lexically rich comprehensive input leading to subsequent varied, fluency activities - all with no need for student written materials. These communities could be in third world countries, for example.

  5. CLIL classrooms (where learners receive instruction in subjects at school other than English in the target L2) especially at the primary school age (6-11) but possibly for young secondary school-age children too (12-14). The intention here is to help learners focus on the key language they need in English. >

  6. Elementary level adult learners. In my own experience, it has been useful to include a consistent gesture language for important high-frequency words to assist learners in comprehension and to elicit those words at the oral level when one needs to without resorting to translation. Encouraging adult learners to be aware of the gesture equivalents to words should promote more speaking, and make vocabulary more memorable.

  7. Although the use of gestures in the English language classroom never stops whatever the age or level, consistent or systematic gestures (always the same gesture for the same word) I have found useful with advanced learners when studying metaphoric language. Interestingly, metaphor draws on references to the human body or the physical world around us: it cost an arm and a leg, I'm up to my eyes in work, it came to me out of the blue, etc. This means that iconic gestures can be By introducing a consistent gesture code for these expressions, the teacher can elicit them from the learners at a later date, which assists memory and recall.

A more detailed look at the main student profiles.

Later primary school age (Silent Sign).

Teachers of primary school children are uppermost in my mind as those professionals who could benefit most from using a consistent gesture code in their own English classes. The bulk of my research, in fact, has been focused on English instruction through gesture with children from seven to eleven years old. The results, which can be viewed in the experiment write-up, reflect how a class of Spanish nine-year-olds with an initial low level in English language competence, especially in oral communicative skills, were able to acquire sufficient communicative speaking ability during an academic year to tell basic short stories in class. If you feel your own learners need a boost in English oral skills and perhaps that explicit language knowledge prevails so that students are successful during written tests but are poor at speaking skills, an injection of gesture in your classrooms may prove helpful.

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL).

There is also another primary school environment where gesture can lend a hand. In many countries over the past years and notably in my own geographical context of Spain, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is on the increase in primary and secondary schools as official educational policy under the auspices of the Spanish Ministry of Education. In Spain, it is referred to as the Bilingual Education Programme (BEP) or simply educación bilingüe (bilingual education). This approach involves learning subjects such as science and history through a foreign language - predominantly English. According to one of its founding fathers, David Marsh, CLIL can be very successful in enhancing the learning of languages and other subjects and developing in the youngsters a positive "can do" attitude towards themselves as language learners (Marsh 2000).

On the other hand, it has been argued that in order to be able to follow the lesson material in CLIL classrooms, students will need a core competency in the target language - a threshold level of English, below which learners will struggle to know what is going on (Bonnet 2012). It has also been suggested that the formal settings such as schools appear to benefit older students as they are more mature cognitively whereas younger learners appear to be less responsive to the mere exposure and contact with the foreign language. Obtaining linguistic and communicative goals should also be a focus for primary school students, something that does not happen during CLIL courses .

The messages of foreboding from the theorists do not appear to be unjustified. When I wrote these lines, the national newspapers are reporting spectacular closures of CLIL programmes in multiple bilingual schools across Spain. That week seventeen schools in Albacete would not be continuing bilingual education that following September. The reasons seem to be related to a lack of teaching resources in the less affluent schools: inexperienced teachers, complex classroom practice procedures and taxing language demands both on the teachers and the students. Requests for cessation of bilingual tuition comes directly from complaints by parents who fail to see advantages in their children's education. Positive intentions definitely, on behalf of the Spanish local authorities, but the teething problems for the implementation of CLIL are evident.

In the light of recent events in CLIL, in Spain anyway, teachers in programmes at primary level may welcome a gesture reference to facilitate target English language usage in their classrooms to enhance comprehension and elicit key vocabulary. A brief example of how gesture can play an instrumental part in CLIL classes is given here...

Article based on findings from Phd thesis (Bilbrough 2017)


Bonnett, A. (2012). Towards an Evidence Base for CLIL: How To Integrate Qualitative and Quantitative as well as Process, Product and Participant Perspectives in CLIL Research. International CLIL Research Journal 1.

Marsh, D. (2000). Using languages to learn and learning to use languages. In Marsh, D. and Langé, D. (eds.) University of Jyväskylä: Finland.

See article - GestureWay - considerations on input and output in the English classroom...

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