Nonverbal Communication Activities

Two people shaking hands
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.

Through nonverbal communication, we make all kinds of inferences and decisions—often without realizing it. It’s important to be aware of nonverbal communication, so we can avoid sending and receiving unintentional messages through our expressions and body movements.

These exercises are designed to help you understand how much information we transmit through nonverbal communication.

Nonverbal Activity 1: Wordless Acting

  1. Separate students into groups of two.
  2. One student in each group will perform the role of Student A, and one will perform as Student B.
  3. Give each student a copy of the script below.
  4. Student A will read his/her lines out loud, but student B will communicate his/her lines in a nonverbal manner.
  5. Provide student 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 may be feeling guilty.
  6. After the dialogue, ask each student A to guess what emotion was affecting their partner, student B.

Dialogue:

Student A: Have you seen my book? I can’t remember where I put it.
Student B: Which one?
Student A: The murder mystery. The one you borrowed.
Student B: Is this it?
Student A: No. It’s the one you borrowed.
Student B. I did not!
Student A: Maybe it’s under the chair. Can you look?
Student B: OK--just give me a minute.
Student A: How long are you going to be?
Student B: Geez, why so impatient? I hate when you get bossy.
Student A: Forget it. I’ll find it myself.
Student 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 used as prompts.
  4. Have each student take a prompt from the bowl and read the sentence: "We all need to gather our possessions and move to another building as soon as possible!" expressing the mood they’ve selected.
  5. After each student has read their sentence, the other students should guess the emotion of the reader. Each student should write down assumptions they made 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 space to move around. Blindfolds are optional, and the task takes a bit longer if blindfolds are used.

  1. Shuffle the deck of cards thoroughly and walk around the room to give each student a card.
  2. Instruct the students to keep their card 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 speak during this exercise.
  4. Instruct students to assemble into 4 groups according to suits (hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades) using nonverbal communication.
  5. It's fun to blindfold every student during this exercise (but this version is much more time consuming).
  6. Once students get into their groups, they must line up in order of rank, from ace to king.
  7. The group that lines up in correct order first wins!

Nonverbal Activity 4: Silent Movie

Divide students into two or more groups. For the first half of the 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 directions 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.
  5. The acting groups will perform the script(s) while the rest of the class sits back and enjoys the show. Popcorn is a good addition to this activity.
  6. After each silent movie, the audience should guess the story, including the conflict and resolution.

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