Estimated reading time: 21 minutes
This blog post is an installment in a collection of hands-on activities and lesson plans specifically designed to help teens learn how to communicate effectively. It also includes helpful resources to teach adolescents the basics of body language and how to confidently send messages using nonverbal cues.
As a professional educator and experienced parent, I have devoted over two decades to helping teens develop the communication, conflict management, and resolution skills needed for success.
By equipping young people with the tools to express their thoughts and feelings and resolve conflicts successfully, I strive to help them reach their fullest potential and achieve personal growth.
The lessons and activities in this post equip young people with the basics of nonverbal communication.
You’ll find resources on body language for teens to help them understand how to communicate more effectively through their facial expressions, gestures, and posture.
Teaching Teens Non-Verbal Cues
Body language is a critical part of communication and can often convey more meaning than words alone.
Body language is one of the most concrete forms of communication. It can help control how people perceive you and how you assess a situation.
As teenagers begin to navigate the world of dating, jobs, and social interactions, they must understand how to use their body language to their advantage.
In addition, understanding body language and non-verbal cues is essential to keep young people safe.
Misinterpreting Body Language
Regarding body language, it can be easy to misinterpret what we see.
There are a variety of factors that can change the way we communicate through facial expressions and body posture, as well as how people perceive them.
Improving skills in this area helps with:
- Sitting with Confidence
- Standing and Walking with Confidence
- Face Communication with Eye Contact and Facial Expressions
- Hand Gestures
- Body Positioning
- Mirroring and Matching Posture
- Communication Style
- Skill of Self-Expression
Body Language Basics
Body language is the outward expression of one’s internal thoughts and feelings.
People communicate through body language whether they are aware of it or not.
This mode of communication is involuntary and unconscious, meaning people send and receive signals about others without effort.
Body language includes facial expression, eye contact, and gesture.
Early Research about Body Language
Studies have shown that individuals better at recognizing nonverbal cues and signals are more intuitive and empathetic and more adept at problem-solving.
Exploring social skills and nonverbal communication is traced back to as early as the 1950s when researchers began to study the connection between body language and social skills.
We Always Communicate
Paul Watzlawick, a psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, philosopher, and author, once famously said, ‘we cannot not communicate’ (Watzlawick, 1951).
He emphasized that humans constantly communicate, even when we don’t realize it, and that our body language gives us away.
In 1952, anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell first introduced kinesics. This term describes communication through body movement.
Kinesics encompasses posture, gesture, stance, and movement and can convey various messages.
Body Language and Communication
Initial research about body language and kinesics expanded to research on psychology-related topics in the early 1960s.
Further investigation discovered connections between body language and emotional intent relating to communication.
Basics of Body Language for Teenagers
Teenagers need to understand the basics of body language, as it is a crucial component in interactions with others.
By learning to read and interpret body language, teens better navigate social situations, build stronger relationships, and improve communication overall.
Practical lessons on this subject matter help equip teens with the skills they need to thrive socially and emotionally.
Learning Body Language is Essential
Teens and body language are an excellent combination for teaching and learning.
As teens grow, they are required to interact with others. Regarding social interactions, body language is a crucial component.
Teens must understand the basics of nonverbal communication to better prepare socially and emotionally for life experiences.
Body language is an essential part of anyone’s life and communication skills.
Teaching Teens About Body Language
Body language is a powerful tool we all use to communicate, whether we realize it or not.
We use it to express our emotions and intentions, which often speak louder than words.
Teaching teens about body language can help them better understand themselves and others, and communication becomes more effective overall.
A lesson about body language should be age-appropriate.
Here are a five examples of how to teach young people about communicating with body language:
- Raising awareness through think-pair-share and pointing out times students see someone using nonverbal cues in everyday life.
- In small groups, discuss how to carry oneself in a way that is comfortable and confident.
- Discuss how to read facial expressions, such as smiling, laughing, and frowning.
- Create a mind map explaining gestures, such as hand gestures.
- Role-play while discussing various topics using body language to convey emotions and intentions.
How to Communicate Effectively with Body Language (Lesson Plan)
This lesson plan works through the key definitions and concepts by providing activities for high school students to relate them to real-world examples.
Body language is a critical part of communication, especially for teenagers. By understanding and utilizing proper body language, teenagers can better communicate with their peers, parents, and others.
Here are some tips to get started teaching teens about body language:
- Explain the importance of body language. Body language is often said to be worth up to 60-70% of all communication; thus, it’s clear why understanding and utilizing nonverbal cues is so important.
- Model correct posture and facial expressions during conversations.
Defining Body Language
To read and understand body language, we first need to know what it is and how it works.
- Body language is nonverbal communication through bodily behaviors, such as facial expressions, gestures, posture, and eye movements.
- It’s important to note that while body language can be a handy tool in our nonverbal communication skills, it can also be easily misread or misunderstood.
Here are two examples of common interpretations of body language:
- A clenched jaw may indicate anger and ready aggression, but it also may mean tension and stress.
- Eye contact, usually viewed as a sign of confidence and professionalism, can also be interpreted as aggressive dominance behavior in different cultures.
Importance of Practicing Body Language
The main benefit of practicing body language is to give us greater self-awareness, so we can be more deliberate in how others perceive us.
The context of the situation, culture, and the relationship between the people communicating will impact the meaning of any gesture or movement.
For example, in Eastern cultures, a high-status person might sit with his arms crossed, a closed or blocked body position. This behavior is interpreted as a defensive or unfriendly gesture in North America.
Suppose you find that an individual’s overall demeanor makes you feel uncomfortable. In that case, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and avoid the interaction.
Body language is just one factor in a complex interaction. You should always pay attention to your counterpart’s words and work to reconcile your observations with their words.
What Is Your Body Language Saying?
As a society, we spend tremendous amounts of time focusing on nonverbal communication skills.
- Remember that body language can be modified intentionally or unintentionally. If we aren’t looking at the context in which these signals are sent, they can be difficult to interpret accurately.
- Remember, too, that body language is only one of many signals we send and receive daily. The most important thing to remember about body language is that it is one part of communication.
Use your body language to enhance your image and increase your self-confidence.
Remember that it is a skill. Practice it. Learn it. Use it.
This video explains body language in detail. I recommend using this video introducing lessons about body language and communication.
It is a long documentary including the following key themes:
- Body language when walking, standing, shaking hands, and hand gestures.
- Facial expressions in body language.
- Power dynamics in body language.
- Body language used in forensic science.
- Body language and deceptions techniques.
Watch the video and discuss the questions below with a partner or small group. Compare your experiences with those of others in your class.
- Online communication often deprives us of important nonverbal communication cues. Discuss what nonverbal cues are present and absent in online communication (e.g., texts, social, etc.) used by members of your group.
- Discuss the substitutions that people make for missing nonverbal cues in online communication.
- How can you compensate for expressing yourself and understanding others fully when nonverbal cues aren’t available in online communication?
This lesson will explore how your communication style can impact your interpersonal relationships.
You will learn about different language usage, listening skills, and nonverbal communication techniques that can make a difference in how you connect with others.
By understanding more about yourself as a communicator, you can build stronger, more meaningful bonds with those around you.
This lesson helps you discover your strengths and how to communicate them effectively.
Exploring different concepts and skills will better equip you to express yourself confidently to others.
Upon successful completion of this lesson, students will:
- Explain how language influences communication
- Describe the language of responsibility
- Explain disruptive language
- Describe the types of ineffective listening
- Explain nonverbal communication
- The Symbolic Nature of Language
Language and Symbolism
Some believe that language is the very heart of any culture and that culture cannot exist without language. Because of this, it is thought that language is symbolic. Let’s look at an example from our everyday lives to understand how language can be symbolic.
Think of Tim Horton’s and Starbucks. They each serve coffee and food items. Tim Horton’s is a Canadian-owned corporation and has restaurants across Canada. At the same time, Starbucks is an American corporation and spans worldwide. If you visited either of these coffee retailers, you would notice that each has its own language.
At Tim Horton’s, we order an “extra large double double,” a large coffee with two creams and two sugar served wholly mixed and ready to drink.
The same drink at Starbucks is a “Venti Verona with extra room,” which means an extra large Verona blend coffee with extra room for you to add cream and sugar.
Reflect on the language used at Tim Horton’s—what symbols can you think of that shape its culture? Perhaps you thought of hockey, family, community, and maybe even tradition?
Now, reflect on the language used at Starbucks—what symbols can you think of that shape its culture? Maybe you would think of well-dressed business people? Perhaps international fair-trade coffee, style, chic, and possibly youth or the younger generation?
Language is symbolic of the culture that it creates. Without language, you would have no culture; without culture, you would have no symbolism.
Interpersonal relationships are built on solid foundations of effective communication. Both verbal and non-verbal cues play a pivotal role in interacting with others and forming connections.
Research has shown that it is impossible not to communicate in some way – body language, for example, makes up more than 90% of our non-verbal interactions.
To maintain healthy and productive relationships, we must learn how to communicate effectively.
Our ability to understand and use nonverbal language is embedded in our innate ability to connect with others and socialize with the world around us.
We send nonverbal communication along with our spoken words when we communicate with others. Facial expressions, body language, eye movements, heart rate, and breathing are ways we send nonverbal messages to others.
Nonverbal communication lets others know how we listen and engage in what they say. Therefore, it is essential to pay attention to our bodies when communicating with others and to understand that nonverbal communication is missed when using computer-mediated communication.
Communicating on Social
Computer-mediated communication is a common form of sending and receiving messages. Consider the nonverbal messages missed when you communicate with others using social media.
- How does missing these nonverbal messages influence what you share in computer-mediated communication?
- What would be different if we could communicate with others through computer-mediated communication and share our nonverbal communication?
- What do different emojis mean?
- What are the messages in various memes?
- How have we developed a language around emojis and memes for common understanding?
When we communicate with others, how we look, listen, and react lets the other person know how well we listen to what they share with us.
Nonverbal communication can either help or hinder interpersonal relationships and communication. But, most important, it is a vital ingredient in our daily interactions.
Types of Language
The following includes key terms for three different types of language styles.
Language of Responsibility
- Taking responsibility for your own emotions and actions is key to maintaining healthy relationships.
- Speaking openly and honestly while using active and first-person language allows you to set boundaries with others.
- Setting boundaries allows others to take ownership of their feelings and actions rather than relying on you to manage their emotions.
In today’s world, communicating clearly and effectively is more important than ever. Unfortunately, types of language are often a barrier to this goal.
Disruptive language choices, such as confusing facts with opinions or using emotive language instead of clear, direct statements, can create problems and make communication difficult.
Additionally, euphemisms and equivocation can be Pretentious and confusing, making it hard to understand what is being said.
Different types of listening are helpful in different situations.
- Paying attention only to what interests you can be helpful when trying to learn more about a particular topic.
- Ignoring or avoiding information you don’t want to hear can protect you from getting overwhelmed or stressed out.
- Self-awareness of reactions to what others say can prevent misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
Types of Ineffective Listening
Ineffective listening is using tactics to avoid listening to someone.
Offering suggestions about the best course of action to someone. Recommend or inform someone of factual information, providing insight on how to take action.
People should be careful before they judge others because everyone is different and has their own unique set of circumstances. Just because someone may look or believe differently doesn’t mean you have the right to pass judgment on them.
Analyzing a situation means breaking it down into parts to understand better all the elements and how they relate to one another. It involves careful consideration and evaluation.
We all need someone to listen to and encourage us sometimes. This is what it means to provide support. It’s about being there for others and helping them to achieve their goals.
Questioning is a crucial part of human thought and interpersonal communication. It allows us to explore different ideas, issues, and topics in depth. By asking questions, we can gain new insights and perspectives. Questioning is, therefore, an essential process for learning and growth.
Prodding someone to take action is known as a prompt. This can be done with words, body language, or other cues. When you prompt someone, you provoke them to make a decision or cause something to happen. Prompting is used to suggest an idea or course of action.
Paraphrasing is a way of stating someone else’s thoughts or ideas in your own words. This is usually done to clarify the meaning or shorten the original communication. When paraphrasing, it is important to use different words from the speaker and to improve the quality of the message to build the connection between speaker and listener.
In communication studies, understanding how words relate to each other is key to grasping the meaning of what is being said. For example, “large” can only be understood when compared to another object. If someone says it is a large lake, this means something different than saying it is a large ocean. By understanding the relationships between words, we can more fully understand the message.
We use emotive language when we use language designed to evoke an emotional response. This language type is often used to persuade someone to see things from our perspective. By carefully choosing our words, we can stimulate a strong emotional reaction in the person who hears or reads us.
Equivocal language is easily be misinterpreted, especially if the speaker deliberately tries to deceive or mislead. This type of language is ambiguous and has multiple meanings, making it hard to understand what the speaker is trying to say.
Teachers can use the following communication activities as an entire lesson or integrate each communication activity into different lessons.
Label the Language
In groups, label the language in each of the sentences below as relative language, emotive terms, or equivocal language.
- Rewrite each sentence in more precise language.
- Compare your answers with those of the other groups.
I don’t like the way things are going.
He’s so cheap!
Kali’s a real nuisance.
Make sure you put in lots of effort.
Your essay should be brief.
She’s a very mature child for her age.
You know what’s best.
Bob is really obsessive about getting his assignments in on time.
Her standards are just too high.
We need to make some changes around here.
You weren’t very helpful.
You’ve got really poor attendance.
Practicing “I” Language
Rewrite each of the evaluative “you” language statements below using descriptive “I” language.
- use specific statements.
- take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings (don’t say, “I feel you are . . . “).
- avoid loaded terms, such as “you wouldn’t even,” you could at least,” finally, whenever, or ever since.
1. “You never want to hear my side of the story.”
2. “You don’t keep your promises.”
3. “You’re no fun.”
4. “Your jokes are stupid.”
5. “Do you ever tell the truth?”
6. “You left this place a mess.”
7. “You’re making me crazy!”
8. “You’re really crude.”
9. “You aren’t there for me.”
10. “You ruined my day.”
11. “You’re always in a bad mood.”
12. “You can never do anything because you always work.”
Write a paraphrasing response for each of the following statements. Include the speaker’s thoughts and, as appropriate, the speaker’s feelings.
Remember to do at least one of the following to avoid repeating: (1) change the wording, (2) offer an example, and/or (3) look for the underlying theme.
“I guess it’s OK for you to use my computer. Just make sure you handle the drives carefully and don’t put any food or drinks on the desk or anywhere near the machine. This computer cost me a lot of money, and it would be a disaster if anything happened to it.”
(Instructor to student) “This paper shows a lot of promise. It could probably earn you an A if you just developed the idea about the problems arising from poor listening a bit more.”
“We are planning a movie night tonight, but I guess you’re welcome to come too. Why don’t you just bring along something we can munch on so we’ll be sure to have enough food?”
“You know I enjoy spending time with you. But I have other friends, too!”
Responses to Problems
For each problem statement below, write a response in each communication style from the types of language. Make your response as realistic as possible.
“I’m getting so sick of group work! At least one person doesn’t show up for meetings or shows up late and unprepared. And I always seem to get stuck with more than my share of the workload.”
“What do you do about a friend who borrows things and doesn’t return them?”
“The pressure of going to school and doing all the other things in my life is really getting to me. I can’t go on like this, but I don’t know where I can cut back.”
“You’d think that by the time you became an adult, your parents would stop treating you like a child, but not mine! If I wanted their advice about how to live my life, I’d ask.”
In this lesson, we discovered how language, listening, and nonverbal communication influence interpersonal relationships and communication.
In the next lesson, we will examine how relational dynamics play a role in self-disclosure in our interpersonal relationships and communication.
Thanks for stopping by!
Until next time,
Adler, R. B., Rolls, J. A., & Proctor, R. F. (2020). LOOK : looking out, looking in. Nelson Education.
Body Talk | The Actuary Magazine. (2018, February 26). The Actuary Magazine. https://theactuarymagazine.org/body-talk/
View all posts by Harald Sack. (2018, July 25). You Cannot Not Communicate – Paul Watzlawick. SciHi Blog. http://scihi.org/communication-paul-watzlawick/