This lesson plan is designed for students to consider the many ways in which people communicate non-verbally, identify their own preferences, and begin to think about the importance of this concept when interacting with others that may be different from them.
15-30 minutes depending on how many styles are used
Pair work, mini simulation
Applicable Content Areas:
Any content area where there is a need to communicate with other people and or interpret non-verbal cues.
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
- List at least three different non-verbal communication styles.
- Express the importance of recognizing different verbal and non-verbal communication styles during interactions with others.
Teacher to divide students into groups of two. Be sure there is adequate open space for each pair to stand facing one another and without hitting or tripping over any objects during movement.
1. Begin by asking students if they can define or provide an example of a communication style.
2. Explain that communication styles can be defined as: The patterns of expression and rules for interaction that reflect the values and norms of a culture. They are generally described as continuum, with an understanding that no one person uses only one style for communicating or interacting at all times. One individual may rely heavily on one style or may adapt their use of these styles depending on the situation.
3. Emphasize that this definition applies to both verbal and non-verbal means of communication (i.e., use of space, eye contact, touch, conversational turn-taking, body language, etc.)
4. Group students into groups of two and ask students to recall a difficult decision they once made and begin discussing this topic with their partner.
5. After roughly 15-30 seconds, without any further explanation, instruct students to continue the conversation while making direct and unwavering eye contact. Students should not look anywhere else.
6. After 15-20 seconds, next ask students to stop making eye contact and look away from their partner (i.e., at the floor, over their shoulder, etc.) while continuing the conversation. Students should not look their partner in the eye.
7. Continue this pattern of instructing to students to incorporate other non-verbal cues into their conversation at short intervals of 15-20 seconds each. In no specific order, consider including as many of the below styles as time permits and feel free to add in an additional topic in order for students to have information to talk about without stopping:
- Physical Space – Instruct students to stand about 1 ft. apart from each other while speaking, then instruct them to step back (approx. 5 feet) apart.
- Physical Orientation – Instruct students to continue speaking while one member of each pair turns around. One person should have their back to their partner, and the other person should be facing their partner’s back.
- Physical Touch – Instruct students to continue the conversation while making some form of sustained physical contact (i.e., hand on the shoulder, holding hands, fist bump or high five…etc.)
- Body Language – Instruct students to speak while holding their arms crossed/folded at their chest, then with their hands on their hips.
- Facial Expressions – Instruct students to speak with as little expression as possible (i.e., flat affect- so smiling, frowning, crying…etc.)
- Hand Gestures – Instruct students to put their hands by their sides and continue the conversation without moving them or using any hand gestures. Then, reserve it and instruct them to use big, exaggerated hand gestures while speaking.
- Turn Taking – Instruct students to speak at the same time, interrupting each other often.
- Speed of Speech – Instruct students to speak quickly progressing to one thought to the next without any pauses, then very slowly perhaps with a lot of pauses and use of filler words (i.e., umm, so, uh, hmm… etc.)
- Volume of Speech – Instruct students to whisper their when they speak so as not to let others her them, then follow it up by asking students to speak loudly with their partner.
- Intonation of Speech – Instruct students to speak with as little tone as possible in their voice (i.e., very flat- no ups and downs in pitch, accenting syllables, or questions… etc.). Then instruct students to speak as if each sentence were a question, regardless of if it is or isn’t (i.e., the intonation should rise and get higher toward the end of each statement).
8. Once you have implemented all the listed styles, or as many as your timing allows, call the students back together for a large group discussion.
The goal of this lesson was to highlight that effective communication requires both verbal and non-verbal cues, and that various people (and cultures) may have different preferences. Consider asking students the following question to prompt discussion:
- How did it feel to interact in these ways?
- What combinations were the most comfortable? The least comfortable? Why?
- How and when do you adapt your preferences based on circumstances, if at all?
- How might a lack of awareness of these styles be harmful?
- How could you incorporate this new insight into your everyday interactions with others? How about with those from a different cultural background?
Lesson Plan Alternative:
Depending on how you incorporate this lesson plan into your content area you may wish to add a slight twist that more explicitly mirrors an encounter with someone who has different communication preferences. Begin the activity by first dividing the class into two groups— group 1 and group 2. Then instruct students to pair up with someone from the opposite group. Instead of having everyone follow the same instruction, instruct group 1 students to follow one instruction, and group 2 to follow the opposite instruction for each described style. For the few styles that do not have an opposite equivalent, the non-assigned pair should be instructed to speak as they usually would without rules or restrictions until the next instruction is given.
Alternatively, and space permitting, the teacher may also choose to forgo the pairs and have students engage in a larger group conversation, moving around the room and speaking with multiple people. In this scenario, be sure to add additional debrief questions regarding with whom they spent the most time or with whom were they the most comfortable speaking and why?
This activity can also be conducted on a virtual platform such as Zoom and Google Meets. Except for physical touch, all styles mentioned are easily adapted for this format. For example, the instructions for physical space could be changed to be sitting very close/or far away from the camera. Physical orientation instructions could also be changed to mean that one person is speaking from off camera (or without their camera enabled) while the other is in frame with their camera enabled.