4 Helpful Nonverbal Communication Activities

Shaking hands
Body language can tell us a lot about what others are thinking and feeling. Gary Burchell / Getty Images

Have you ever made an instant judgment about a person, without ever speaking to him or her? Can you tell when other people are worried, afraid, or angry? We can sometimes do this because we are tuning in to nonverbal clues. Research suggests that very little of our communication is actually verbal. In fact, about 93% of the information we give and receive is actually nonverbal.

Through nonverbal communication, we make all kinds of inferences and decisions—even when we don’t realize it.

It’s important to be aware of nonverbal messages, so we can avoid sending and receiving unintentional messages through our expressions and body movements.

Nonverbal communication causes us to make many judgments and assumptions. The exercises that follow are designed to help you understand how much information we transmit with nonverbal communication.

Nonverbal Activity 1: Wordless Acting

1. Separate students into groups of two.
2. Determine one student in each group as student A, and one as student B.
3. Give each student a copy of the following script.
4. Student A will read his/her lines out loud, but student B will communicate his/her lines in a nonverbal way.
5. Provide B with a secret emotional distraction that is written on a piece of paper. For example, student B may be in a rush, may be really bored, or maybe feeling guilty.
6. After the dialogue, ask each student A to guess what emotion was affecting the student's partner student B.


A: Have you seen my book? I can’t remember where I put it.
B: Which one?
A: The murder mystery. The one you borrowed.
B: Is this it?
A: No. It’s the one you borrowed.
B. I did not!
A: Maybe it’s under the chair. Can you look?
B: OK--just give me a minute.
A: How long are you going to be?
B: Geez, why so impatient? I hate when you get bossy.
A: Forget it. I’ll find it myself.
B: Wait—I found it!

Nonverbal Activity 2: We Have to Move Now!

  1. Cut several strips of paper.
  2. On each strip of paper, write down a mood or a disposition like guilty, happy, suspicious, paranoid, insulted, or insecure.
  3. Fold the strips of paper and put them into a bowl. They will be prompts.
  4. Have each student take a prompt from the bowl and read the same sentence to the class, expressing the mood they’ve picked.
  5. Students will read the sentence: "We all need to gather our possessions and move to another building as soon as possible!"
  6. Students should guess the emotion of the reader. Each student should write down assumptions they make about each "speaking" student as they read their prompts.

Nonverbal Activity 3: Stack the Deck

For this exercise, you will need a regular pack of playing cards and a lot of moving–around space. Blindfolds are optional (it takes a little longer).

  1. Shuffle the deck of cards well and walk around the room to give each student a card.
  2. Instruct the students to keep their cards a secret. No one can see the type or color of another's card.
  3. Make it clear to students that they will not be able to talk during this exercise.
  4. Instruct students to assemble into 4 groups according to suits (hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades) using nonverbal communication.
  5. It's more fun to blindfold every student during this exercise (but this version is much more time consuming).
  6. Once students get into those groups, they must line up in order of rank, from ace to king.
  7. The group that lines up in proper order first wins!

Nonverbal Activity 4: Silent Movie

Divide students into two or more groups. For the first half of class, some students will be screenwriters and other students will be actors. Roles will switch for the second half.

The screenwriter students will write a silent movie scene, with the following tips in mind:

  1. Silent movies tell a story without words. It is important to start the scene with a person doing an obvious task, like cleaning the house or rowing a boat.
  2. This scene is interrupted when a second actor (or several actors) enters the scene. The appearance of the new actor/s has a big impact. Remember that the new characters could be animals, burglars, children, salesmen, etc.
  3. A physical commotion takes place.
  4. The problem is resolved.

The acting groups will perform the script(s). Everyone sits back to enjoy the show! Popcorn is a good addition.

This exercise gives students a great opportunity to act out and read nonverbal messages.