Use Hand Signals When Remote Teaching!

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Hand Signal


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How can teachers improve student retention when teaching online?

In a new research paper, academics suggest moving the hands in the encoding stage enhances memory, because body movement activates the frontal cortex, which is crucial to the memory process.

I’ve taken a look to see how this can be adapted to online teaching in my bid to understand the brain.

Memorisation: verbal repetition and word copying

This research (Tsz Wing Tsang & Hui Jing Lu, 2021) looks closely at the teaching and learning of vocabulary; language skills, such as writing and speaking. The academics cite:

“Traditional learning methods, such as verbal repetition and word copying, enhanced performance in word memory in educational settings (Cazden, 1992; Kindle, 2009; Teale, 1984), and innovative learning strategies, such as moving the hands during the word memory process, facilitated the retrieval of words in a laboratory setting” (Propper et al., 2013).

The key question asked is, ‘Whether hand movement facilitates memory in a real-life classroom settings?’

I’d like to pose this in addition to teaching in an online world.

Here’s an example video of me using my hands in a remote teaching environment.

Now, compare the above video to this one.

The differences are obvious.

The research unpicks some literature reviews and I’ve summarised the findings below:

  1. Verbal repetition, a memory strategy of maintenance rehearsal, facilitates word memorisation.
  2. [Students] who read aloud while learning new words have performed better in memory recall or recognition tests than those who read silently.
  3. Word copying has been demonstrated to be less effective than reading for word memorisation.
  4. Learning through dictation offers higher spelling accuracy of the newly learned words than learning through repeated copying.

Moving the hands or fingers improves memory

Hand movement improves word memory of Grade 1 studentsThis research asks if moving hands or simply using fingers while encoding or retrieving information enhances memory performance.

It highlights that by doing so, the frontal cortex of the brain is activated. This is the part of the brain which is responsive to memory tasks.

The game of Scrabble is used in the study (n184) where students picked up plastic letters, listened to the teacher spelling the words or copied them down.

Fun hand movement was used and words were written on the blackboard at the front of the classroom.

Verbal repetition was also used as a technique.


Learning by moving hands alone resulted in “superior memory to learning through word copying across three recall time points.” Moving hands exhibited a long-lasting effect, and also attributed to engagement levels.

There is lots more to be taken away from this piece of research. Given the current circumstances that teachers face (during COVID) I published this short summary to help. I’ve already written a number of articles below which may find useful to help enhance the way that you teach.

  1. Remote Learning: The Evidence 
  2. 12 Tips for Teaching in a Virtual Environment
  3. A Teacher’s Gaze in Video Lectures Improves Learning
  4. Does Size Matter?
  5. How Can Teachers Teach Better, Online?
  6. Using Google Classroom During A Pandemic
  7. Creating A Supportive, Online Environment For Pupils
  8. Safeguarding Pupils: Teaching Pupils Using Zoom Video
  9. Teaching Online: Use Lecture Pauses Enhances Learning.

Looking towards the British Sign Langauge as place to learn, as well as being more conscious of our non-verbal signals (taps wrist to check the time) would be a great place for teachers to start.

This research suggests that teachers who use hand signals as a strategy for learning can improve students’ memory. I’d argue that the same can be achieved in an online environment…

Download the paper  – Tsz Wing Tsang & Hui Jing Lu (2021)


One thought on “Use Hand Signals When Remote Teaching!

  1. This is an interesting article. I work in an semh background and I use Makaton in all classes even with kids who aren’t neurodiverse and I feel it reinforces the big bits of the learning and helps all pupils to understand more.

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