Teachers’ Communication Skills Used to Respond to Children Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

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The purpose of this research is an investigation teachers’ communication strategies used in response to children's verbal and nonverbal communication. It is important to note that communication plays a very unique role in the life of human beings. Therefore, effective communication requires a tone of voice, touch, discussion, ideas, feelings, and emotions, eye contact, body language, and so on. Verbal and nonverbal communication skills are indispensable and interrelated in the teaching and learning process. The teachers’ ability to apply both in the early-year classroom can improve the quality of teaching, learning, and teacher-child interaction. Many studies have examined the communication skills of children and adults, and only a few have included children-teacher communication in the early-year classroom.

Keywords: Teacher; Children; Verbal and Nonverbal Communication Skills


Communication is an essential part of human lives. We communicate in different ways to express our thoughts, feelings, knowledge, skills, and ideas. Communication is normally assumed to be identified with speed and sounds. Conversely, it is the combination of verbal and nonverbal transition of knowledge. Muhammed, et al

While a plethora of studies has assessed the level of communication skills of teachers; including developing communication skills in the young child, impacts of nonverbal communication on learning, the power of verbal and nonverbal communication in learning, and so on. However, there is a need to investigate which of the teachers’ communication skills is most effective when responding to young children's communication needs in the classroom. This study, therefore, would be undertaken to determine the most effective communication strategies used by teachers to respond to children's communication in the early years in class, with respect to it’s impacts and effects on young learners.

This study addresses the main research question;

What is the most effective teachers’ communication skills used to respond to young children communication?

And sub-question:

What are the impacts of nonverbal communication responses in the classroom?


Graber (2003) cited in Thompson (2011:12) defined communication as a process in which there is some predictable relation between the message transmitted and the message received. Thompson also considered Fiske’s 1990 definition of communication as social interaction through messages. He suggested that the social dimension of communication is the recognition that communication takes place in a social context which has a significant effect on the success or otherwise of the communication and, on the very nature of that communication, and secondly the transmission of information from one person to another. (p.12-13)

Communication is an ability that is not simple and straightforward to acquire and cultivate. Frequency and dedication are needed to be able to communicate effectively, Dunhill (2009:17) Thompson argued that communication is an important part of our everyday life in the sense that we cannot but communicate, Thompson (2011:14). Communication is vital in the human being; infants communicate with others right from birth. Words or signs are used to converse with others, body language, gestures, facial expressions, sounds and movements we make, and the way we pause are salient and are also means of communication. Human beings use symbols in dances, music, visual arts, in the stories we tell, in drama or write as literature. We are the only creature who communicate in symbolic ways. The human brain has a large tendency for communicating through high symbol usage. It is of great significance that we do not allow children to encounter the kind of experiences which cause them to be left alone to use symbols in restricted ways, because this wastes the possibility of thinking, feeling, and relating with others, Bruce (2005:74). Moreover, teachers’ communication with children include a process of commitment with the child concerned. It is only in this manner that a teacher can effectively pass messages across and understand responses from children by creating a communicative bond. These include;

  • a) Appropriate form of language usage based on the child’s level of development
  • b) Choice of befitting body language
  • c) Identification of the right timing and place
  • d) Selection of appropriate topics, and points of interest that will help engage the child
  • e) Connectivity to the level of the children's rapport, greetings, and humor, Weld (2009) cited in Thompson (2011:160).

Good communication is essential with children. It involves listening, questioning, understanding, and responding to what could be communicated. Communication is not just about the word’s usage, but also your manner of speaking, body language, and above all, the effectiveness with which you listen, (DfEs, 2005 in Lefevre, 2010).

In these contexts; verbal communication will be discussed thus;

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  1. Intrapersonal communication that is, communication with oneself implies the sound of one's thoughts.
  2. Interpersonal communication that is, communication with another person, (Adler & Rodman, 2012:7).

Younger children's language takes its attribute from the fact that they are apprentice speakers. Thomas et al. argued that during the first five years of life, children are still in the process of acquiring the grammar of their native language and a working vocabulary (2004:124). Young children are usually regarded to be dependent on older speakers and haven’t expected that their contributions would be irrelevant or delayed. The younger the children, the more likely their attempt to initiate new topics which could overlap.

Nonverbal communication vitality makes a healthy verbal meaning to children. It could be expressed as stopping and dedicating full attention to the children. These are indications that teachers are truly interested in and care about them. The gesture in turn shows the children possibility of full attention, (Raising children). When your nonverbal communication sends a different message from your words, the child is more likely to believe the nonverbal communication. One of the greatest pleasures of working with young children is to see their fascination and eagerness for communication of many kinds. Teachers owe it to them not to destroy this potential and it should be cultivated with respect and sensitivity.

Body language and tone of voice are key parts of nonverbal communication. Teachers can use them to send positive nonverbal messages and reinforce what he is saying to his pupils. Research by Mehrabian (quoted in Dunhill, 2009) believes that only seven percent of communication involved direct words spoken between people. Instead, it was paralanguage that conveyed thirty-eight percent of the meaning of the message. (paralanguage means the variables that accompany and amend the spoken word; the tone of voice, speed, loudness, pitch, and intonation). Body language and other nonverbal signs accounted for the remaining fifty-five percent of information transmitted. Similarly, Bruce (2005) opined that nonverbal communication forms eighty-five percent of all communication with others. Talking with others takes place in isolation from nonverbal communication. It is very difficult if not impossible for a teacher to explain something without moving, facial expression, eye contact, body language, and hand gestures.

Young children strive to talk with adults. They want to communicate their thoughts and feelings and connect with others. They acquire information by exploration and conversation with interested others and they need to know that adults especially their teachers are listening to what they are saying. Genuine conversation with children is a skillful art. It works best when adults can abandon their own agenda and take note of a child’s intentions, which are expressed in body language, facial expressions, gestures, and sounds (Bruce p.83).

Some reviews of related literature confirmed that nonverbal communication is the most used communication strategy by teachers in responding to learners. It is widely considered reliable and effective in comparison to verbal communication as it gives additional support to verbal communication, Muhammad et al. (2014). Nonverbal communication requires teachers to be flexible in their instruction and to consider all factors that influence teacher-child interaction. For example, Park (2013) observed a preschool teacher with eighteen years of teaching experience in the English language who used a calm tone of voice, body language, and appropriate touch in her classroom and concluded that; a calm tone of voice is used to refocus children attention and maintained their sense of calmness. While body language such as gestures, body movement, and facial expressions is effective in demonstration teaching (storytelling) as they can replace a spoken word to explain an idea when the children show difficulty in comprehending. She also used appropriate touch when a child was angry and sad and found out that it made the child happy and secure.

Moreover, Mackey (2000) cited in Okon (2011) implied that learners respond first to the nonverbal body language used by teachers. The mood and tone of voice used by the teacher is established in the first few minutes. He includes that the nonverbal communication skills used by the teacher can have a strong impact on the class. In a like manner, Shams et al. (2016) submit that the use of a nonverbal communication strategy is the method that produces the highest output for children learning. They acknowledged the fact that the majority of teachers use nonverbal communication for getting classroom attention, for making teaching-learning interesting, and for motivating young children, Muhammad et al. (2014) agree with this line of reasoning from his research and noted that nonverbal communication is efficient to motivate and facilitate young children towards learning as they can easily understand through symbols and gestures rather than words. They stressed further that teachers' body movements, gestures, eye contact, and tone of voice help keep children active and awake in class.

As reported by Okon (2011), research regarding nonverbal behaviors has frequently manifested that the specific nonverbal language used by the teacher will have a direct impact on both the psychological attachment of the children to the teacher and the teacher’s ability to connect with the young children. Nonverbal communication serves as the foundation for building intimacy and allowing the children to feel connected to the teacher. Similarly, Houser and Frymier (2009) suggest that the manner in which a teacher responds to a child d during interaction will be reflected through both verbal and nonverbal communication. Teachers whose verbal and nonverbal communication styles are compatible and reinforcing will be able to provide the children with a clear sense of belief in themselves.

To recapitulate, based on the major role played by communication in educational practice, a lot of writers have suggested that communication skills be taught to teachers as part of their training especially the area of nonverbal communication as it is an essential part of teaching and learning instruction.

Professional Context

The inspiration for this study began as a result of my experience while working with young children. I began my teaching career in the year 2007 when I was employed by a private school in Nigeria to teach grade one pupils as a class teacher. Ever since I have worked with several schools ranging from preschool to primary and secondary schools. I then discovered that effective communication strategies are needed to respond to children's diverse communication needs, especially in the classroom. As a teacher, I still need to find out which of the communication skills is best used to respond to the learners. My current position is Education Officer in the Federal Ministry of Education, Nigeria

The philosophical basis of the research


This study reviewed literature that already exists, therefore journal articles published in the last ten years (that is, 2009-2019) were reviewed. The articles were found in the university library via electronic recourses: the database used were ERIC, Education Research Complete, Google scholar as well as research gate using these keywords; teachers, children, and communication skills


This study will be a qualitative research approach because it focuses on presenting and interpreting people’s views, interactions or values based on previous studies (Atkins & Wallace, 2015).


The limitation which must be acknowledged in this study is the review of literature which was taken from articles published in the last ten years. It does not investigate the children's communication skills, it is basically on teachers’ communication styles, this is due to the fact that the children in this current study comprise mainly two to five years old.

Ethical issues

There was no ethical issue to consider in this study because it is literature-based research.


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  2. Atkins, L. & Wallace, S. (2015) Research methods in education: qualitative research method. London: SAGE Publications Ltd
  3. Bruce, T. (2005) Developing learning in early childhood 0-8years. London: Paul Chapman Publishing Company
  4. Caudle, L.A., Jung, M., Fouts H.N. & Wallace, H.S. () Early childhood preservice teacher guidance strategies across classroom contexts.
  5. Dunhill, A. (2009)’ What is communication? The process of transferring information; in Dunhill, A., Elliott, B. & Shaw, A. (eds) Effective communication and engagement with children and young people, their families and carers. Exeter: Learning Matters 17-30
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  9. Okon, J.J. (2011) Role of nonverbal communication in education. In Carteny, A. (ed) Mediterranean Journal of social sciences special issue, 2(5), Rome: MCSER, 35-40.
  10. Park, M. (2013) Nonverbal communication: a quiet path to children’s engagement. Texas child care quarterly, 37(3) Winter, 18-22.
  11. Raising children network: Nonverbal communication with children. Available online: https://raisingchildren.net.au>connecting-communicating pdf[Accessed20/11/19].
  12. Shams, F., Khan, N., Bibi, Z., Shah, K. & Nazish, F. (2016) Nonverbal communication and its effects on students at secondary level in district Burner, Pakistan. Courage in media
  13. Thomas, L., Wareing, S., Singh, I., Peccei, J.S., Thornborrow, J. & Jones, J. (2004) Language, Society, and Power. An Introduction. 2nd edition. London: Routledge
  14. Thompson, N. (2011) Effective Communication: A guide for the people professions. 2nd edition. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan
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Teachers’ Communication Skills Used to Respond to Children Verbal and Nonverbal Communication. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/teachers-communication-skills-used-to-respond-to-children-verbal-and-nonverbal-communication/
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