May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

The Power of Non-Verbal Communication

Posted: Friday, July 1st, 2011

by Lisa Hegdahl

When I first began teaching, I struggled with classroom management.  When my principal called me into her office that first October and told me that I had written more detentions than any other teacher, she proceeded to send me to a 3-day classroom management seminar.  Over the next few years, I studied many management techniques, and the behavior of my students improved.  I came to realize that good classroom management comes primarily from well-designed lessons, not any one particular “bag of tricks.”

During one of my first years as a BTSA Support Provider, I attended a workshop on non-verbal communication which shared the strategies from a book titled ENVoY: Your Personal Guide to Classroom Management, by Michael Grinder & Associates.  Grinder’s message – to decrease verbal management tendencies and increase attentiveness to our non-verbal messages – has had the biggest impact on the behavior of my students than any other single strategy I have used.  Grinder quotes NEA published research that says 82% of all teacher communications are non-verbal messages.  It would follow that we would want to be sure those messages are clear, consistent, and elicit the desired behaviors.

I use several of Michael Grinder’s methods on a regular basis.  One is called “Freeze Body”.  It is used to get a class’s attention.  In order for the non-verbal cue to match the auditory cue that is being used to get a class quiet and focused on the teacher, the teacher stands still in the front of the classroom, points toes forwards, and puts weight on both feet.  If a teacher moves around during this critical time of trying to focus students, students observe a discrepancy between what they are being asked to do and what the teacher is doing.  I have experimented with this technique by using my verbal cues with and without “Freeze Body”.  Students focus significantly better when I use all the techniques in “Freeze Body”.

“Freeze Body” can be used along with “ABOVE (Pause) Whisper.”  To get the attention of the students, the teacher speaks “ABOVE” the volume of the class.  Once the teacher has their attention, the teacher pauses.  The next spoken words by the teacher are spoken in a whisper.

For three years, I worked for a company that provided school assemblies.  My boss was a master of raising his hand while saying, “Raise your hand if…”  I brought this non-verbal cue into my teaching early on.  Michael Grinder takes it farther.  If you want students to “Speak Out” with no hand raising when having a class discussion, ask the discussion question while holding both your hands out in front with palms raised upwards.  If you want to speak to the class with no one raising their hand, or speaking out, point to yourself with one hand, and with the other, hold out your palm to the students like a traffic cop would do.  Some classes will need to be taught the pairing of the hand signals with the non-verbal cues, but I find that most students understand the cues with little explanation.

The presenter at my BTSA seminar discussed the “Tom Brokaw” voice.  He pointed out that newscasters giving important information speak sentences with the pitch of their voices gradually going down.  Many of us tend to do the opposite.  When I remember to use my “Tom Brokaw” voice, there is a noticeable change in the attentive body language and behavior of my students.  I don’t have to say, “This is important, be attentive.”  They can hear it in the pitch of my voice.

Michael Grinder’s book goes into great detail about how and when to implement his non-verbal cue techniques. There are also other publications and resources that provide in depth non-verbal strategies.  By giving you a few examples here, I hope to inspire you to pursue your understanding of the non-verbal messages you send your students everyday.

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and CSTA’s middle school director.

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th-grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is Past-President of CSTA.

2 Responses

  1. For grades 3 – 6, at least, setting clear schedule and behavioral expectations at appropriate times does wonders. And you absolutely must master The Look.

    On the playground, it does wonders to calmly take away mis-used balls for the rest of the day or have a mis-behaving kid walk around with you holding your hand.

    Never yell. Teachers have too much trouble with laryngitis. Once you get their respect, just The Look will be enough.

  2. All I can say is, “Wow!!”

    Thank you so much for the classroom management ideas. Something I learned was in order to get shy students to raise their hands, hold both arms out wide, palms facing the students, in a cross formation. What this does is it gets the students thinking, “Gosh! The teacher’s going to get tired with his arms out like that. I better say something so that he can put his arms down.”

    It works. 🙂

    Ezra Barany
    Author of The Torah Codes

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.