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Communicating with Hand Signals

Using hand signals to communicate


Students can use hand gestures when they are remote or in person to provide teachers a quick check on their level of mastery and how they are feeling. These hand gestures allow for students to signal their needs in a visual way that is unobtrusive and well-suited for a video call. Hand signals can also provide motivation for remote students to keep their videos on and stay engaged throughout synchronous learning time. These hand signals can supplement built-in reaction tools and chat within video meeting software.

Examples of hand signals that classes can use are:

  • Fist-to-five: Students raise how many fingers they feel on a scale. For example, a student will raise a fist if they feel like they really do not understand the material, or five fingers if they feel very confident in understanding the material.
  • I agree: If a student wanted to say the same thought a classmate said or to express support for an idea, a hand signal can convey this.
  • Celebration: Students can wave their hands in place of applause to celebrate an achievement.

When introducing hand signals to the class:

  • Introduce one or two hand signals at a time.
  • Demonstrate what the hand signal is and when students should use it.
  • Practice hand signal movements as a class.
  • Give example scenarios and ask students to show which hand signals they would use in each case. As you introduce more hand signals to your class, make sure to mix in various hand signals.
  • To normalize help-seeking, actively praise and encourage students who are indicating a need for more information or help. Consider also having students who indicate understanding or mastery to share their knowledge with others.