ELL students face a set of challenges that most students inherently don’t. Anna Dearlove, a teacher from San Francisco, found that her English Language Learners were struggling to grasp new terms. So, she took their learning into her own hands—literally.

Dearlove uses hand movements to help students communicate words they have trouble articulating. It aids in clarifying not only what she is trying to teach, but also when she hears her students speak back to her. For example, one of her students tries to say the word “wings” but it comes out as “rings.” The “wing” motion when accompanied with the vocabulary word made it easier for both to understand each other.

This practice works, and there’s research to prove it. According to an article published in BIOLINGUISTICS, “performing a gesture when learning a word or phrase enhances its retrieval compared to pure verbal learning.” This means that Dearlove’s students have a better chance of remembering each word’s meaning when paired with a gesture. The great news is that this method can be used to learn any language at any age or level to improve memory.

You may find yourself already doing this naturally, as it’s common to use hand motions during conversation. If you aren’t one to speak with your hands, give this a try and let us know how your students react. Don’t take it too seriously—it should be fun and engaging for you and your students to practice.

Talk with Your Hands in the Classroom

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