Teacher Toolbox
Classroom Management - Social Interactions

Nonverbal Cues

Often children with special needs may have difficulties recognizing the nonverbal cues and interpreting the meaning embedded in the signals.  They may have difficulties recognizing personal space, linking vocal intonation with a facial expression to understand a person’s feelings, and may not understand hand movements, such as a palm facing forward to mean stop.

Children may appear to be more unpredictable than adults to children with special needs. Learning to regulate one’s behavior and to interact with peers in a variety of settings is an important skill needed to interact in a classroom setting.

Children with special needs may benefit from support to help them process and understand nonverbal cues such as:

  • Help students learn to notice the facial expression and body posture during interactions. Use gentle verbal prompts such as, "what do you think my face is saying to you …" to help point out the cues. (Facial Expressions game / Feelings Game and Emotions Color Wheel)
  • Use colored markers to indicate standing space and distance to stand in line.  Put a colored dot on a wall to indicate where the student needs to stand.
  • Role-play in small groups to help practice recognition of meaning conveyed in posturing and vocal intonations.
  • Cue students to recognize common hand signs that are used in a classroom.  Such as, recognizing the palm facing forward to mean stop, and the hands on the hips to convey displeasure.
  • Provide opportunities to have children watch short clips of videotapes of a television show with the sound off. Ask the students what they think is happening by analyzing the postures and the movements of the actors.
  • Play charades or pantomimes and have children guess the message.  This helps to draw attention to meaning in body posturing.
Nonverbal cues used during social interactions
hand showing stop gesture
  • Body postures

  • Personal space and spatial boundaries

  • Facial expressions

  • Gestures that co-occur with speech

  • Personal dress