nonverbal communication lesson

In this nonverbal communication lesson, students will become social detectives, observing people’s body language and facial expressions in public spaces to figure out how they may be feeling.

I love people watching.

While I usually avoid the mall, it’s definitely the best place to people watch. You’ve got teens being themselves without their parents around, older people speed walking in jogging suits, moms doing their best to wrangle kids, and some just all around weird behavior.

It’s a fun activity, but also a great way to practice reading body language!

Is that person sitting alone on a bench bored waiting for their spouse to be done shopping, or are they just quietly enjoying their pretzel in peace?

Is that group of teens about to cause some trouble, or are they innocently expressing themselves in one of the only places they’re allowed to hang out without adults?

This nonverbal communication lesson allows students to learn the art of people watching by becoming a “social spy,” observing people’s actions to figure out how they may be feeling.

The directions for the activity instruct students to Find a place where they can quietly observe other people, like the playground, the grocery store, or on the street. (If they don’t have the opportunity to observe people in public safely, they can observe characters on a TV show). Students will then fill out the worksheet based on the people they see.

The worksheet asks students to look for people they think are displaying a certain emotion, like someone who looks happy. How do you know they are happy? What are they doing? What does they face look like? Are they smiling, laughing? What does their body language look like? If they have their arms crossed or fists balled up, are they happy?

How about a person who is alone? How can you tell how they are feeling?

The activity also asks students to describe someone who they aren’t sure how they are feeling. Maybe they are crying, but they are also smiling. Maybe they laughed but then went back to frowning. These displays of mixed body language or facial expressions could be confusing to kids, but would be a great opportunity to talk about how sometimes emotions can be mixed up, or how sometimes people try to hide how they are feeling, such as laughing when they are actually sad.

If you don’t typically assign students social skills homework, consider doing this nonverbal communication lesson with a small group at school. Go to the recess yard or cafeteria and observe people together. Help students notice different body language like facing into or away from the other person while two people are talking. Help students identify which facial expressions indicate excitement and which indicate anger or fear. You could then send an extra worksheet home for students to practice again, whether alone or with their families.

Download Worksheet PDF