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Hand Signals To Transform Your Classroom

As kids are learning they can become excited and feel the need to shout out. This can often be disruptive to you and other students. But what can you do to stop it?

Hand Signals To Transform Your Classroom

Ultimately, there is no stopping children from shouting out when they have a grand idea or need to go to the toilet. But you can help them distinguish between when they can shout out and when they should be quiet.

Hand Signals are a great way to help your students understand what you need from them and how to keep the rest of the room engaged.

Below are some excellent hand signals that will improve the behavior in your classroom and to limit disruptions for the other kids.

Classroom Hand Signals Explained

As the main grown-up in the room, you are the focal point for all the children. They will come to you with whatever they need from sharpening a pencil to needing to refill their water bottle.

But when working with other kids, this can become distracting for everyone. Hand signals allow you to know what the particular student needs if they need your attention, or what you may need from them.

It gives them a sense of independence and allows you to keep track of everyone’s engagement without having to disrupt the entire classroom.

Hand signals are typically formed of 5 numbered hand signals that all indicate a different meaning. The hand signals are then used throughout the lesson to help them communicate without you having to stop everything.

5 Numbered Hand Signals For The Classroom

The most basic way to introduce hand signals to the classroom is through the following 5 numbered hand signals:

1. May I Use The Bathroom?

Students can inform you of their need for the bathroom by simply raising one finger in the air. Once they have gotten your attention, you can simply nod your head and allow them to leave the classroom without having to stop your lesson. 

2. May I Refill My Water Bottle?

Another popular question your student may have is to refill their water bottle. Many students may not know the right time to ask and find it difficult to even raise their hand in fear of interrupting you. 

By raising their hand in the air and lifting two fingers, you can give them the go-ahead to raise their bottle without having to speak out in front of the other kids.

And without having to distract the other students from the lesson. 

3. Can I Ask A Question?

As children learn, they are going to have many, many questions. But when you get into a flow, having them interrupt to ask you a question can have you fall off track. 

By raising three fingers in the air, you can call upon them when you feel you are at a point to stop without losing the entire plot of the lesson. 

It also helps the child keep engaged in what you are saying while thinking about their question. 

4. May I Get A Tissue?

Throughout winter and into the spring, sneezing and runny noses are inevitable. From catching a cold to having allergies, everyone has the sniffles and requires a tissue. 

Rather than interrupt the entire lesson, kids can raise four fingers into the air. This tells you they either need to borrow tissue from your desk which you can hand them or they need to go to the bathroom. 

Either way, they can communicate their needs silently and you can continue the lesson without missing a beat. Perfect if your kids get distracted by the slightest noise. 

5. May I Sharpen My Pencil?

We all know the oldest trick in the book: going to the trash can and sharpening your pencil to chat with a friend. This can be extremely frustrating for you as you try to keep everyone else engaged in what they are doing. 

If a student needs to sharpen their pencil, they can raise five fingers into the air and once you give them the nod, they can move to the trash can.

This helps you keep it to one student at a time and prevents any distracting chit chat. 

You can make up meanings for any hand signals and make them work to your needs with your students. These are some basic hand signals that will be easy for your students to comprehend. 

Now, we can get into how to use them within the classroom. 

Implementing Hand Signals During Lessons 

Implementing hand signals into your lessons is a rather simple process. They are extremely useful with younger students who are still learning to understand social cues.

However, they can be used in Middle School and even High School classrooms. 

You can implement Hand Signals into your lessons through a series of steps:

1. Determine What Means What

The first step is to determine what the hand signals mean. You can begin with 3 signals and add more as the class becomes more comfortable. 

It is important that the meaning remains the same for a specific hand signal. If you are constantly changing what each signal means, you are only going to confuse the students and they will never learn how to use them. 

2. Make Posters

Once you know what each hand signal is going to mean, you can begin inventing ways to help the children learn. The best way is through some bright but simple posters. 

They can be as basic as having a picture of the hand signal and an explanation of what it means below. This way, if the kids ever forget what a signal means they can give it a look and figure it out for themselves. 

3. Hang Them Up

You want to select a spot on the wall that is visible to all the children throughout the classroom. Each child should be able to see them from wherever they are in the classroom. 

Having posters of hand signals have various uses:

  • Helps your students remember what they mean. 
  • Allows substitute teachers to know what the children are asking. 
  • Works as a reference point. If a child forgets to use their hand signals, you can refer them to the poster and the importance of using them. 

4. Begin Using Them

At the beginning of the lesson, inform your students of the hand signals and what they mean. Allow them to try them out for a few minutes before beginning the main focus of the lesson. 

If you are using hand signals with older children, middle school and up, then you can begin the lesson immediately. When a student begins to interrupt, direct them toward the hand signal posters as a gentle reminder. 

When working with younger children, you may want to take more time to introduce the hand signals. Have them practice in two different ways as a group.

You first hold up 1–5 fingers, and they explain what each one signifies. You then specify one of the demands (toilet, etc.), and they demonstrate how to make an inquiry using nonverbal cues. 

The children should get the hang of it pretty quickly. 

5. Remain Firm

Within every group of children, there will always be one or two that like to test boundaries. You have to keep referring them back to the posters and not indulge in their behavior. 

This shows the other students that hand signals are the only way to get your attention and that you mean business. 

Hand Signals For You To Use

Throughout this article, we have shown you hand signals that your students can use to communicate with you. But what about hand signals you can use to communicate with them?

Below are several common hand signals for you to use in the classroom:

1. Listen

When dealing with a large group of people, young or old, they are bound to become loud and rambunctious. This is fine with having small group discussions but there will come a time when you need their attention. 

This sign helps to indicate that the classroom is becoming too loud and you require their attention.

This often works better than shouting over the noise and all it takes is for one student to notice the sign before everyone else begins to quieten down. 

2. Help

This sign is more so for the children to use but you, as the teacher, can use it too. 

Students can utilize this subtle gesture to indicate that they need additional teaching or assistance instead of raising their hands for the entire class to see.

When kids are close together during circle time, this signal is especially useful. 

You can use this sign when you need help with something but don’t want to disrupt the entire class. 

3. Attention

Not all hand signals have to be boring, the Silent Coyote is a great, fun way to get your students attention. 

When you have split your classroom into groups for a task and want them to pay attention to you, raise your hand with this signal to have them turn their eyes and pay attention to you. 

4. Keep Going

We all know that horrid gut-wrenching feeling of speaking out in class. And when you finally get the courage to answer a question, your voice can almost die in your throat. 

A raised fist from yourself and other students can be a form of encouragement for the speaker to continue. That their voice is important and whether they are right or wrong, they should still answer the question. 

This is a great way to build confidence within your students and help them flourish with public speaking. 

5. Thank You

While you are the authoritative figure in the room, it is still important to show your appreciation to your students. 

Both you and your students can use this hand signal to say thanks for small gestures such as helping you rearrange the classroom or even for allowing them to go to the toilet. 

You can help build communication skills with this simple hand signal. 

Benefits Of Using Hand Signals In The Classroom

Using hand gestures for classroom management has several advantages.

Above all, you can give a pupil a short glance to maintain your composure and keep things moving along in class without causing an unnecessary distraction for other students or stopping the lesson’s flow with the conversation.

 This is a simple technique to maintain the flow of the lesson considering that teachers deal with challenging issues and circumstances on a daily basis.

Without having to speak, teaching classroom management through hand gestures is incredibly successful. 

The best thing about employing hand signals for classroom management is that they don’t require any preparation beyond selecting the right set of signals and explaining them to your students.

For problems, they may be experiencing, for rapid assessments, or for controlling student participation, hand signals are perfect. 

Another great thing about implementing hand signals within the classroom is that students are learning a new way to communicate.

While talking is the most common way to communicate, kids can learn how to use their hands and even connect with others who may not have the ability to speak or hear. 

It is an inclusive way to communicate throughout the classrooms and may help improve a student’s way of navigating conversations. 

You can also begin building a relationship with your students by allowing them to come up with their own signs. As students gain interest in the signs, they can begin creating hand signals for what they need. 

This is especially helpful for children who may struggle to come forward in a classroom setting. Just make sure to have everyone on the same page about what the hand signals mean and continue updating the poster for both your and your student’s benefit. 

Final Thoughts 

Hand signals are an extremely powerful tool to utilize within the classroom. They give your students the independence to communicate with you without disrupting the entire lesson. 

Once you and your students agree on what each sign means, you can unleash a whole new world of communication and fun. 

All you have to do is keep a handle on things, which might be harder than you expected. We love using hand signals to show students when they need to listen and when they can have a little more fun. 

Get started by picking 5 hand signals for your classroom today. Who knows how their behavior will change!

Frequently Asked Questions 

Why Do Teachers Use Hand Signals?

Teachers direct students’ attention using pointing gestures, portray concepts, ideas, and relationships with representational gestures, and mark the pattern of conversation with beat gestures.

What Are The Four Types Of Hand Signals?

According to McNeill (1992), there are four types of hand signals; beat, deictic, iconic, and metaphoric. 

Are Hand Signals Sign Language?

In a way, yes hand signals are sign language. However, if you are determining the meaning of the signs they will not be official American Sign Language. It is important that the students are aware. 

What Is The Strongest Non-Verbal Cue?

Non-verbal cues are different from hand signals but they are still extremely important. Eye contact is the most powerful non-verbal cue and can help determine a person’s engagement in what you are saying or doing.

Simon Lewis

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