Classroom Management Part 5: Silent Communicators!

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This strategy is so much more than a classroom management tool! It is a formative assessment, a classroom community builder, a communication tool and a bridge for our slow to output students to get there sooner!!!

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This past year, I started teaching in a public charter in New Orleans. Before school started, new faculty were introduced to some of the hand signs students use to “communicate” in classes rather than blurting out. (Hence the classroom management piece). We learned these at the same time as the “numbers” students use to let us know if they need to go to the bathroom or need water, etc.. I didn’t really think about how these communicators would apply or work in my classes until school started.

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I did a card talk on the first “real” day of Spanish in my classroom, and asked students to draw what they “liked” with absolutely no words on their piece of paper… One of the first papers I focused on was a bar of chocolate (which is always a safe word in many languages because it is a cognate and when novice students are feeling overwhelmed by the new way you teach, hearing a word they know well, helps lower the affective filter). This is how the “conversation” went. All in the Target Language:

  • I announced “Oh! Class! Mayra likes chocolate!
    • I asked “Mayra, do you prefer Hersheys or Snickers?”
  • Mayra said “Snickers”
    • Immediately after, I had 10-15 students in the classroom excitedly moving their hands in and out with the “hang loose” symbol…
    • Simultaneously, another handful of students held their hands up and they were doing, what looked like, the queen’s wave..
  • Then I went to another student, we will call him Jeremy, who had a football on his paper, I held it up and said “Class! I like football a LOT! The Broncos are my FAVORITE but many people prefer the Saints. Jeremy likes football, too!”
    • Then I looked at him and said “The Broncos are MY favorite, who (while pointing to my “WHO!?” question word poster) is yours? The Saints, the Falcons, the Chargers, the Colts?”
      • He said “The Panthers”
        • Immediately, the same thing happened, but this time there were LOTS of students doing the queen’s wave and only one or two seemingly telling that student to “hang loose”
  • THEN, it hit me… I wrote “YO TAMBIÉN” on my white board then said “Class, WHO (pausing and pointing to the poster) likes Netflix?”
    • Almost all the kids rose their hand
      • I exclaimed “¡YO TAMBIÉN!” while doing the hang loose signal that they’d modeled for me
        • I could observe that about half of the students already understood what I meant
  • Next, I asked “Who likes Snickers?”
    • About half the class raised their hands
      • I did the queens wave while shaking my head and said “I don’t like Snickers”
  • I asked, “Who likes Dove chocolate?”
    • Lots of kids shot their hands into the air
      • I did the hang loose sign again and exclaimed “YO TAMBIÉN”
        • Then I asked them “Class, how do you say YO TAMBIÉN in English?!
          • I counted to three (I always give three seconds wait time….
            • They yelled “ME TOO!!!”

And just like that I established meaning just with a few meaningful repetitions of a TPR gesture they were already familiar with! That was my first rejoinder of the year.

What I really liked was, I walked into an environment where blurting was discouraged (doesn’t mean they don’t do it a lot), but students still had a way to communicate their opinions. Then, when I introduced the rejoinder, they were given the language and permission to “blurt” but in the TL. Students were really excited to use it, and they did all year, but they ALWAYS used these communication signs too.

The other reason I loved these signals, was they were a fantastic, built-in comprehension check for me. I could instantly see how many students were understanding me with their use of these gestures. Teaching to the eyes is essential and their eyes always give me clues if they’re confused, but now, I can look at their eyes, but also can see in the way they move their hands if they are unsure if they were comprehending correctly or not. It allows me to slow down, and repeat again.

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Finally, there are many students who are slow to output. Others, don’t have a problem speaking if everyone else is, but if it is in front of the class, they’d rather not. This way, I could tell their opinion on a variety of topics just by looking at their gesture and then I can use them in PQA and more easily draw them into conversation.

Another gesture they use, is one to indicate they’d like to build or add to something we are talking bout. They do this by making two fits and knocking one on top of the other repeatedly. I use a poster with these gestures on it to help my students remember them. I have them in my TpT store in English, Spanish, and French. For example (again dialogue from class is ALWAYS in the TL):

  • I review the details of our card talk at the end of class and say “Mayra likes chocolate and Jeremy likes football”
    • A student signals they’d like to build on the sentence or topic
      • I call on them and they say “Jeremy likes the Packers”

Students can let me know they can’t hear me when I am talking by turning invisible knobs by their ears up. This lets me know to get louder (they rarely need to use this with me… let’s be honest). This is the ONLY gesture I’ve set conditions with. I don’t want students to do this gesture when each other are speaking. They are used to using it for each other in other classrooms but in mine, if a student is being brave enough to speak in the TL, I don’t want them nervous about everyone around them gesturing to “get louder” if they are shy. I can provide them with more reps anyways if I repeat what they said loudly after the fact.

The final gesture we use is probably my favorite. Anytime we are super pumped about something, we stick our hands up and make our fingers wiggle with excitement!

I introduced these to participants in my workshop this week in NY and someone made the comment that it must make my classroom MUCH quieter. Honestly, not really, and I don’t want them to… We are still loud and excited, but I do find the English blurting  is MUCH less because students are have a “voice” and still “feel heard” and then they have the rejoinders which they love. I also see students who usually take forever to speak up, talking much sooner because they already feel like they’ve been seen and heard. Another huge benefit is in my quest to constantly gather details about my students and their likes and dislikes for our Mafia, Loup Garou and Bad Unicorn games, this is a REALLY quick and consistent way to get those details from them (without them even knowing it is happening!).

So there you have it! Hand gestures for comprehension checks, classroom management, confidence building and community! Need a poster for the gestures? I have one in English, Spanish, and French.

Until next time,



La Maestra Loca

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  1. Good morning, Muchas gracias for sharing these técnicas maravillosas. I do not know if I introduced myself already, but I am going from 14 years in ESL to whole Spanish classes and to be honest I am ansiosa, especially for classroom management. I already have some Bitmojis to use, but your explanation is great. Again, gracias.

    *Ms. Vivian *

    *Spanish Teacher* *Southwest Middle School*

    *There are many different languages in the world, *

    *and every language has meaning.1 Corinthians 14:10*

    On Fri, Jul 12, 2019 at 10:13 PM La Maestra Loca wrote:

    > La Maestra Loca posted: “This strategy is so much more than a classroom > management tool! It is a formative assessment, a classroom community > builder, a communication tool and a bridge for our slow to output students > to get there sooner!!! This past year, I started teaching in ” >

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