Rationale: An individual’s body language can significantly impact how people interact with him or her. In a conflict situation, it is important to be very aware of what one communicates through non-verbal language and to be able to interpret the body language of those with whom one is in conversation.

Objectives: To examine how body language can impact communication.

Materials: None

Time: 30 minutes


  1. Tell students they will share their opinions with a classmate on a controversial topic. Brainstorm a few controversial topics from which students can choose.

  2. Divide students into pairs. Instruct one person in each pair to select one of the topics and share their opinion with their partners. When the story is over, the listener will retell the thoughts/opinions in the second person (“You…). When the retelling is complete, the speaker should either confirm or correct the retelling. When they have finished, students should switch roles.

  3. Before students begin, give each listener a card with an action or attitude. Tell students not to share what is on their card, but when they are listening to the other person sharing their opinion, they are to act out, without words, what is written on the cards.

  4. Examples of cards include the following:
    • Openness: Open hands
    • Defensiveness: Arms crossed, sideways glance, touching-rubbing nose, rubbing eyes
    • Insecurity: Chewing pen, biting fingernail
    • Cooperation: Open hands, sitting on edge of chair
    • Confidence: Hands behind back, back stiffened
    • Nervousness: Clearing throat, whistling, covering mouth, jiggling money or keys, tugging ears, wringing hands, blinking frequently
    • Frustration: Short breaths, tightly clenched hands, fist like gestures, rubbing hand through hair, rubbing back of neck 

  5. Once students have switched roles, lead a class discussion using some or all of the following questions.
    • How did the listener’s physical actions affect how they retold the story?
    • When this happens in real life, how hard is it to tell a story to someone who does not seem to be interested?
    • In what situations might people change their body language? Why might they do this?
    • How can body language impact communication during conflict?

Adapted from Exercise 4.1.3, Creating a Culture of Peace in the English Language Classroom by Alison Milofsky (United States Institute of Peace). 

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