Tips for Teachers: Working with gestures and mime: 5 classroom activities 

Teaching Techniques for Communicative English is a gem full of practical ideas and techniques to bridge the gap between the language of the classroom and the world outside. Lively activities give learners a chance to experiment creatively with newly-acquired language so they can communicate meaningfully in real-life situations.

Here are five classroom activities involving gesture and mime. These activities are important because, as award-winning author Jane Revell puts it, they ‘are intended to incorporate non-verbal aspects of communication into the teaching programme by giving students an opportunity to learn and practise gestures, facial expressions and other paralinguistic ways of communicating’.

These are just some of the many practical and creative activities in Teaching Techniques for Communicative English. We hope you’ll have fun trying them out with your students!

1 Mime a message

Students must get a message across to a person on the other side of the room, without using any words, as if they were at a crowded and noisy party. The teacher gives a card with a message on it to a student, who must then use nothing but gesture and mime to make him/herself understood. The other student(s) must interpret the message, which could be something like:

It’s time to go.

Can I borrow your mobile?

You’ve got a ladder in your tights.

I’m having a terrible time.

I need something to eat.

2 What’s my job?

One student mimes an action that is typical of the job they do. The other students must then find out exactly what that job is by asking questions to which the student can only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They are allowed only ten questions. Cues can be put on the blackboard to help the students:


Regular hours?


Common job?

Normally done by men?


‘This is the job I had last year’ will elicit questions in the past tense, just as ‘This is the job I’ve just been offered’ will elicit questions in the future tense, if the teacher wants to focus on a particular tense. ‘Have (got) to’ is another structure which can easily be practised in playing this game.

3 Pass the parcel

The students sit in a circle. The teacher gives every other student a card with the name of an object (always the same object). This imaginary object is then passed around the circle. The half of the class who know what the object is must give the other half of the class visual and verbal clues (without actually naming the object) so that they can guess what it is. They must, for example, hold it in a certain way, and say things like: ‘Careful! Don’t squeeze it!’ or ‘It’s still a bit hot’ or ‘If you hold her like that, she’ll scratch you!’

4 Guess what the guest means!

Students are divided into groups of four or five. One, a guest staying at a hotel, is given a card on which is written something they want or need. The guest has a very bad cold and has lost their voice, so s/he must make him/herself understood to the others in the group – the collective hotel receptionist – entirely by the use of mime.

For elementary students it is enough that they grasp the general idea of what the hotel guest is trying to get across. More advanced students could be asked to produce the exact words written on the card, forcing them to find synonyms for words and to search for different ways of saying the same thing.[2:1]

In trying to guess ‘Could you tell me how to get to the cathedral?’ for example, the students might well come up with any of the following things:

Where’s the cathedral, please?

Which way is the cathedral?

What’s the best way to get to the cathedral?

Could you tell me the way to the cathedral?

I’m looking for the cathedral. Can you help me?

Do you know the way to the cathedral?

I wonder if you could tell me where the cathedral is?



Some suggestions are given below for the sorts of things that might be written on cards:

Where is the nearest underground station?

Could you call me at 7.15 tomorrow, please?

Is there a cheap Indian restaurant near here?

I was very cold last night.

Could I possibly have an extra blanket tonight?

My room is too noisy.

Do you sell postcards?

Is it possible to make a phone call to Ireland from here?

The hot tap in my room isn’t working.

Is there a doctor in the hotel?

Could you tell me how to get to the cathedral?

5 Auditions

Students are told that the director of a play is looking for a cast. They need, for example, a grumpy old man, an

elegant lady, a shy parish priest, a neurotic chain-smoking poet, a sulky teenager etc. Students have to audition for the different parts using both speech and mime, and the class decides who should be given each one.