Please, talk with your hands: What I’ve learned from teaching and poetry

Watch this video of Sarah Kay on TED. I posted it a few days ago, so you might have seen it already. This time when you watch it, though, pay attention to her gestures.

What are her hands doing? What’s her body language saying?

Like the words in her speech, all the little subtleties seem planned. She didn’t just go up there and talk with her hands. I bet she rehearsed with her hands.

Maybe she didn’t plan each specific motion for that specific speech. Instead, I’m guessing it’s a combination of choreographed gestures and spontaneous reflexes, the result of years of poetry reading.

I like that she uses her hands. I like that she expresses herself, not just with her words but with her entire person.

My kids seem to like it too.

I noticed when I use my hands, when I jump around, create motion in class, I get the best responses. When I engage my body, not just my mouth, the kids engage in response.

So now I purposely use more gestures when I teach. I think it helps cement the words and phrases in my students’ minds. They hear the word or phrase in the context of the story I’m telling, but they also get to see the word or phrase played out in my body language.

It gives them more for their senses to grasp. It gives them more options for attaching what I’m saying to what they already know.

Now, I’m trying to take it a step further. Now I want to talk with my body language all the time, not just to my students. Rather than a crutch, a few studies seem to show that gesturing improves language control.

So I’d also appreciate it if everyone else incorporated more body language as well.

It’s like, if someone can’t live it in their speech, act it out, why assume that person lives it any other time? The more they invest themselves in what they’re saying, the more I respect them.

Or at least I won’t fall asleep. That’s a form of respect too.

Please, talk with your hands.