Have you ever used hand signals in your classroom or homeschool? If not, you are missing out on an amazing nonverbal classroom management technique that can change the dynamic of your day. And did I mention it was nonverbal? You know I’m a huge proponent of discussion to engage your kids and keep them on-task. However, discussion isn’t always appropriate in specific situations. And that is where the hand signals come into play.
When I first began using hand signals in my classroom, I was the ELA teacher in third grade. To create consistency and alleviate confusion for the kiddos, all of the third grade teachers used the same ones. We had images posted on our boards to remind the kids (and us) of the different signals. After the first couple of weeks, the kids were using the signals in all of the classes, and it made teaching so much simpler!
Hand Signals for Basic Needs
I have always used two different sets of hand signals. I had the basic needs signals and the interactive signals. The basic needs signals were the ones my kiddos would hold up for me to see. These four were used consistently in my classroom, and each specific one meant something different…
- Holding up the number 1 means “I need a tissue.” (This is kind of gross, but think about the nose-pickers and then the number makes sense.)
- Raising crossed fingers means “I need to use the restroom.” (Think about it like a kiddo crossing their legs when they need to potty.)
- Holding up the number 3 means ”I need water.” (This is sign language for the letter w.)
- Raising a pencil in the air means ”My pencil needs to be sharpened.”
Just as a quick note, my kids always knew to grab a pencil before class started. However, occasionally, when completing an activity or writing in their journals, a pencil would break. In this case, the child simply held up the pencil in the air, and I would either bring the child a new one or allow them to get up and get one. However, unless the pencil was actually broken, they would not get a new one.
While these signals were designed for classroom use, they are perfect for your homeschool. Obviously, if you only have one child, they aren’t necessary, but if you have more than one child (and especially if they like to get out of their seats frequently) you’ll want to start using these. I promise, they’ll cut down on the interruptions during your individualized instruction.
Interactive Hand Signals
My favorite interactive hand signals were used during large and small group time to get everyone engaged in the lesson. These were especially important for my active learners because the movements got their bodies involved in the learning process.
These hand signals were used when someone was answering a question in class. I would ask a specific question, and when a student gave the answer, I would say, “What do you think, boys and girls? Do you agree or disagree?” My students would…
- Indicate “I agree” by holding up the ASL letter y and shaking it back and forth
- Indicate “I disagree” by crossing their arms in front of their chests and making an x.
My students loved using these! They were the perfect assessment tools because I could look around the room and immediately know who knew the answer and who didn’t. These were also a springboard for interesting conversations and debates about the correct answer.
My absolute favorite interactive hand signal was one that my kids used to encourage each other. Whenever a student was struggling to answer a question, we would use the “keep going” signal. This signal was expressed by making a fist with each hand, and rotating the fists in a circle in front of your chest. Sometimes, my kiddos would start making this signal for a struggling student even before I had a chance to do it. This made my heart so happy because the kids were saying “you can do it” without ever opening their mouths. It was such an encouragement, and it created a wonderful classroom environment.
Benefits of Hand Signals
- I began noticing fewer disruptions and management issues with my “frequent fliers”. (You know the ones…the kids whose hands fly up as soon as someone else asks to get a tissue, go to the bathroom, or sharpen a pencil.)
- Hands were raised to answer questions or give me a signal. If I saw a signal, I knew exactly what my student needed. Thus, I could simply nod or shake my head without ever having to miss a beat teaching. Otherwise, hands were being raised in response to something I’d asked.
- I was able to assess my kiddos’ understanding based on whether they agreed or disagreed with a specific answer.
- The “keep going” signal created an encouraging classroom environment.
If you add these hand signals into your daily classroom routine, you will find more benefits than I have even listed. Yes, there will be a learning curve for you and your kiddos, and you might occasionally forget what each signal is for. But, I promise you’ll reap positive benefits from simply implementing them.