Why do a workshop on body language?
When the time came for us – Anna-Sophia ten Brink, Siegfried Hadatsch, and Thomas Pelka (Team VIII) – to decide on a topic for our workshop at the Lao-German Technical Collegse (LGTC), we quickly agreed that the topic should deal with the field of “body language”. We found that most of the workshops at the LGTC offered by preceding volunteers dealt with topics like “Pronunciation” or “How to create a course plan”, but the more general frame of how to present oneself (especially as a teacher) – public speaking or how to stand in front of large groups – had not yet been dealt with. After discussing our idea with the project leaders, we were reassured that the topic of body language would be very beneficial for the teachers at the LGTC, also because they are multipliers and pass on their newly acquired knowledge and skills to their students.
Background body language in Laos
One of the observations the project leaders made while working abroad with Lao colleagues was that Lao people tend to use “passive body language”: They often stay in the back of larger groups, do not put themselves in the spotlight and keep their voices low during speaking. This is a trait of Lao culture, the general polite way of behaviour – modesty is a virtue. However, within an international context or simply in their own classrooms, this seeming “lack” of awareness of “active body language” can diminish the weight of their words and their presence.
Yet if you want to convince an audience, be it in your own classroom or at an international conference, it is essential to fully utilise all means of communication: Not only the words one speaks, but also the tone in which they are spoken – and with which body language they are conveyed. If you use those tools of body language actively, it becomes much easier to convince people of your ideas and motivate them into participation.
With our minds now set on the topic of “body language”, on the basis of why the topic is of such importance for teachers at the LGTC, we started to plan our workshop. Since it would be centred around the teacher’s presence in the classroom, we decided to focus on how teachers could get more aware about their non-verbal part of communication, and, by that, improve their confidence and presence in front of their class. Thus, we titled the workshop “Body language: presenting yourself”.
To give the workshop a structure, we divided it into two parts:
The first part of the workshop would provide the teachers with theoretical input on the subject matter: What is body language, how is it perceived, what kinds of body language are there, and how can we use them to our advantage in an active way?
The second part would provide the teachers with the possibility to practise their newly acquired knowledge by way of different activities and exercises.
Both parts would then be shortly summarised at the end of the workshop for consolidation.
Part one: Theoretical input
On 8 April 2019, after we set up the room for our workshop, we waited for our tandem-teachers and the teachers from our teacher-classes to come. When everybody had arrived – a total of eight teachers – we started our workshop with the question “What is body language and what do you know about it?”
One of the answers the teachers gave us was quite to the point: “It’s the language your body speaks, like sign language”, and they also showed us some examples that came to their minds, e.g. hand signals, such as the stretched out flat raised hand as a symbol for “stop”.
Beyond this, ideas were rather vague, so it became quite clear at this point that a deeper look at the concept of body language would indeed be helpful. This topic had not been consciously dealt with or talked about yet.
At the very beginning of our workshop, we wanted to convey the importance of body language by letting the participants guess the percentages of the three fields of which communication consists:
– word content,
– tone of voice, and
– body language.
We asked the teachers to draw a pie chart on the whiteboard and to fill it with the percentages of each field. After discussing the distribution of percentages for a rather long time, they agreed on giving “word content” 85%, “tone of voice” 10% and “body language” 5%.
Contrary to their assumptions, however, the distribution is quite different: Communication consists of 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and only 7% word content,1 so the largest part of communication is non-verbal. Although this distribution of percentages only pertains to observations made within a Western context, it still shows that body language plays – or can play – a big part in communication. The point still stands: Body language is a large, unspoken part of communication, containing one’s gestures, facial expressions, posture, and voice.
To demonstrate the weight of body language, we did a small activity. Each teacher got a piece of paper with an emotion written on it, and in pairs of two, they had to perform their emotion without saying anything in front of the others. The others then had to guess each emotion, and they were very surprised how quickly they were able to guess most of them. This little exemplified the concept and also impact of body language: Contrary to their previous assumptions of how little body language matters in communication, they now saw how much can be communicated by only using one’s body and face.
We then started providing the teachers with theoretical input about the basics of body language. People across many cultures use it constantly and subconsciously. Although the Lao are among those cultures in which greatly expressive body language is not the norm, learning how to read body language can still help to understand more of the message that is being conveyed.
This is especially important for teachers in the classroom. Teachers do not only have to be informative and provide content – they should also be inspiring, entertaining, good public speakers, and good leaders at the same time, to engage their class. Knowing how to use the right body language can support them to achieve all of that.
Additionally, knowledge about body language also helps to “read” one’s classroom and the students’ individual responses to a lesson. By adjusting one’s body language to a given situation, teachers can appear more positive, engaging, and approachable, and thereby motivate their students even more.
There a two different kinds of body language: Positive and negative body language. Negative body language can usually be recognised by arms folded in front of the body, crossed legs, tense or minimal facial expressions, body parts or the entire body turned away, minimal or no eye contact, and a slumped posture. Being aware of this kind of (subconscious) behaviour can help to avoid sending negative signals to other participants in a conversation. No matter what you say, if your body displays negative body language, what you say will be perceived in a negative way most of the time.
Positive body language, on the other hand, can be used to cause the complete opposite effect. If actively used in communication, it can greatly support the impact of spoken words and how they are perceived. Even if what is said is of a negative nature, using positive body language can reduce its negative impact on the other person.
After checking language and making sure everyone understood the importance of positive language, we gave an overview of the signals that are a part of positive body language.
These include an
– open, upright posture,
– keeping one’s head up,
– maintaining good eye contact,
– using open hand gestures,
– smiling, and, very important for teachers,
– creating a positive and active first impression every time they enter the classroom, which sets the frame for a successful lesson.2
After introducing the two kinds body language, we summarised the key points of the theoretical part of the workshop and ended with a few questions for self-reflection: How are you presenting yourself at the moment? What feeling are you conveying at the moment? Then we all “corrected” or consciously “chose” our body language according to the non-verbal messages we wanted to send. We were now ready to move on to apply the acquired knowledge in practical activities and little exercises.
Part two: Practical input, activities & exercises
The first exercise was a worksheet, on which the participants had to identify different emotions which were conveyed by the body language of the persons in the photos. This helped with the active application of the new awareness of the signs of body language, i.e. how to read them. Before we continued with more active exercises, we did a small body warm-up which involved stretching different parts of the body to activate the teachers physically after one hour of theory, and to raise their awareness of their own bodies – only when you are actively aware of your body, you can use body language consciously.
For the next exercise, we again handed out small notes with different emotions written on them. The task was to leave the classroom and enter it again while displaying the emotion on the note while walking towards the front of the classroom. The rest of us then tried to “read” (or guess) what emotion they displayed.
With this exercise, we wanted to demonstrate how important the first impression is that one makes when entering a room, especially for teachers.
After this exercise, time was almost up, so we gave the participants a handout which summarised the contents of the workshop. It would be a possibility for future workshops at the LGTC to further build on the topic of body language, for example by filming and then analysing the body language in lessons that the teachers give.3
After we had given all teachers the possibility to ask some more questions, we concluded the workshop with the impression that all attendants valued the input we had given about body language and how to “read” it and how to effectively and positively use it.
As we noticed earlier, many teachers are not fully aware of the concept of “active body language use” and really enjoyed learning about it. Especially the exercises where they had to communicate without using words helped them a lot to realise its importance within communication.4
We are confident that our workshop will help the teachers at the LGTC to be more conscious and active about their own physical posture and presence in front of their classes, and that this “heightened” presence will influence and motivate their students. Using body language to your advantage is a very powerful teaching tool,5 and we hope our audience will use some new ideas that we developed together.
Text by A-S. ten Brink, S. Hadatsch & T. Pelka
Photos by A-S. ten Brink & S. Hadatsch
1 According to Mehrabian, Albert & Mortin Wiener (1967). “Decoding of Inconsistent Communications.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6/1, 109-114.
2 They way teachers enter the classroom influences the mood of the rest of the lesson.
3 A similar concept called “Video enhanced observation” (VEO) is a common technique used during the ISP (integrated semester internship) of German teachers-in-training. Watching yourself teach (in a video) is a real eye-opener. The “VEO-app” has bookmarks and other features that you can use additionally for more in-depth observation or research.
4 Language is not only learnt and taught with verbal methods. Non-verbal approaches to language-aquisition, i.e. learning through movement and TPR (Total Physical Response), can also yield favourable results.
5 For a more in-depth look into how body language can be succesfully utilised in teaching scenarios, one can refer to Fabian Stober’s and Richard Martin’s article about interactive storytelling.