How to make sure you don't overuse gestures during your ESL classes

What to replace gestures within an online classroom?

What to replace gestures within an online classroom?


  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Gestures are an integral part of the teaching and learning process, especially when it comes to online teaching where the possibility to communicate with your students is somehow limited. 

However, is using gestures always a good thing? When and how should we use gestures? What should we do if we find ourselves overusing gestures? 

We will try to give answers to all of these questions in this article. 

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The pros of using gestures in the classroom

Don’t get me wrong: gestures may serve for the benefit of classroom management. 

Here is how:

  1. To help your beginner students to understand you better. Indeed, adding as many gestures as possible is a great way to increase the understanding of L2 by the students of A1–A2 levels and decrease the usage of L1. You can put your hand on the ear if you can’t hear your students properly or show a shhh sign if students are supposed to mute themselves etc. 
  2. To correct the mistakes. Gestures are a common way for instant error correction which is used instead of interrupting  and interfering with the student’s speech. 
  3. To present vocabulary (personality traits, shapes, transport, for example). You can mime and use gestures to elicit and drill new vocabulary. 
  4. To present functional language (giving directions, instructions etc.) Gestures might be especially useful for working through certain topics. 
  5. To teach pronunciation by coming up with a system of signs for every sound.
  6. To give classroom instructions.
  7. To reduce the teacher's talking time. 

As we can see, there are a lot of ways we can use gestures at the lesson and get a benefit from it. Improved classroom management, better comprehension and increased retention are only some of them. 

Are there any cons, though? 

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The cons of using gestures in the classroom

Of course, there is nothing perfect under the sun, and using gestures might have some negative influence

Here are some of the examples:

  1. Gestures might be misinterpreted. Students, particularly those with varied cultural backgrounds or learning preferences, may misread or misunderstand gestures.
  2. Gestures may be used inconsistently. Teachers sometimes tend to use too many gestures to express the same point, confusing pupils in the process.
  3. Gestures happen to be distractive. Some students may find that gestures are used excessively or inappropriately, which interferes with their ability to study.
  4. Gestures often have limited applicability. Using gestures may be ineffective in some situations since it is often challenging or impossible to explain some concepts using gestures.
  5. The teacher who wants to implement gestures may lack the necessary teacher training. Sometimes teachers simply don’t have enough knowledge or expertise to communicate clearly or effectively with the help of gestures. 

So, here we are with a pretty big list of possible problems where the second, third and fourth points are especially interesting. 

How to build consistency in your classroom? What to do if you overuse certain gestures? What if something can’t be explained with the help of gestures? 

How to replace the gestures

The thing is that gestures are not the panacea to all the problems. 

Some obstacles can be overcome even without gestures as online software gives  us a lot of new opportunities and takes our imagination to another level. 

Here are some of the ideas on how to “communicate” with your students non-verbally and without gestures: 


Using emojis is an extremely underrated tool which can be converted into an  effective way to:

  • Warm-up: ask your students to describe their day by choosing three/ four emojis and let their partners guess what happened.
  • Drill: emojis help with enhancing retention. 
  • CCQs etc.

In addition, emojis can be used instead of gestures. 

You may choose a certain emoji to react to the mistakes: how about this one 😵‍? Students may also use emojis to express their emotions (😝), readiness (💅), need for help (🤯), etc.

This tool is great indeed as it serves as an additional non-verbal source of information both for the teacher and the students and can be reacted to instantly (as in the case with the mistakes). 

Plus, it is always fun and makes lessons even more engaging

Thankfully, the majority of software that is used for teaching online has a great range of emojis to choose from. 


Reactions are pretty similar to emojis, however, it is much harder to misinterpret them and they hang out near your profile picture as long as you need them to. 

That is why it is an extremely useful feature for any discussion or debate as you may clearly see who wants to contribute. 

Moreover, you have a list based on the time the hand was raised. In this way, you get an accurate list of volunteers who you may nominate one after another. 

It is also a useful tool for the teacher to indicate the will or need to interrupt the students without being rude or rapid. 


The chat of the conference is another great savior as you don’t need to show or say anything anymore. 

You may just send an instant message with certain instructions, emergent language, or a sentence which needs to be reviewed. 

It is an easy and effective way to share some information that can be referred to at any point of the lesson and for various purposes.

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Last but not least, annotation may also replace gestures. Circle the items, put question marks, attract students’ attention with the help of certain signs and bright colors. All of that may be super effective for a change.


In conclusion, gestures should be used with caution and moderation to prevent misunderstanding or distraction among students, even if they may be an effective tool for improving classroom communication and learning. 

In order to guarantee that gestures are utilized responsibly and successfully in the classroom, it is crucial to have the proper training, be aware of cultural and learning differences and not be afraid to try out solely “online” new ways of communication. 

Using gestures is great because they can't be misinterpreted. 

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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