Relationship Skills

Family Resources on Communication: Body Language and Tone

Project and Purpose

Students participate in body language and vocal tone exercises.

Essential Questions

Why is understanding body language and tone important in communication?

If this lesson was used in the classroom: Students learned about context and diction in speaking and analyzed how body language and tone affects verbal communication. In class students discussed how body language, context and diction affect communication. Students also read an article about non-verbal communication and considered their communication skills.

Getting Ready for the Conversation

Body language and tone affect verbal communication more than the actual v0ocabulary used. Often messages are lost not because of a poor choice in words, but the way words are delivered.

Conversation notes:
Speakers, particularly in conversations, do not always consider (or are aware of) their body language and voice tone. This happens because a speaker knows what they mean to say, but may not be in tune with their own emotional state or how they are projecting. Learning to be in tune with oneself while speaking will help communicate effectively with others.

Helpful tips on body language and tone from Toastmasters International:

In Business Insider Dr. Donna Van Natten shares how entrepreneur Sara Blakely makes a good first impression:

Constructive Conversation Starters

The first item is for follow-up after participating in class activities.

Tell me (or us) about the article by Hilary Freeman you worked with in class. What did you find interesting? Why do you think someone’s facial expression is important?

Describe a time when you said something that was misunderstood? Why do you think you were misunderstood? What can you learn from this experience?

Why is it important to be aware of how you feel emotionally when you say something to someone else?

School to Home Resources on Communication: Body Language and Tone


  • Copies of The Guardian article, “Actions Speak Louder…” by Hilary Freeman
  • Flash cards with word/words (see notes within lesson)
  • Access to included photos
  • Actions speak louder..


1. Arrange students into a circle or circles, depending on class size.

2. Play Pass the Word.
a. Going around the circle, each student will say the word on the card with a different inflection or emotion. For example, a student may be excited (“Hamburgers!”) or disappointed (“… hamburgers?”). When creating these flash cards, the words should be mostly nouns with a few adjectives. The adjectives should have neutral connotations as not to lead the students (“yellow” or “wooden” vs. “sad” or “rainy”). Encourage creative inflections such as accents and the speed at which the words are said.
b. Each round, the student will add a word of their choice to the word sent around the circle while still giving the word, phrases and eventually sentences an inflection. *This is an opportunity to revisit context or diction. The context in which two or more words are set plays a large in role in the tone as does the choice of the speaker/author’s words.

3. After reaching three or four word phrases, debrief the students. Define tone as the attitude or character of something. Ask if a teacher or relative ever said, “Don’t take that tone with me.” Mention “tone of voice” or “color tones” or “audio tones” and encourage students to make connections between how these all exhibit the definition
Discussion questions:

  • HOW is the way that things are said important to their meaning?
  • How does tone or inflection affect the listener or reader’s understanding or opinion of the speaker or author’s message?
  • (Transition to article) What other things can influence how speech is understood or received?

4. Distribute The Guardian article “Actions Speak Louder…” and read as a class or individually. Have students highlight or note the three most interesting things about body language mentioned in the article and have them defend their selections. (Note: The Guardian is a British publication; therefore, it might be appropriate to point out British spellings of certain words such as “practise” and “behaviour.”)

5. Ask students how the way a person moves or looks impacts the meaning of their words and give examples (how a small child would feel about an adult speaking them standing up versus crouching at eye level; how politicians or speech givers use their hands in their speeches to punctuate or emphasize; reinforce from the article how an applicant’s slouching might be received).

6. Show students the attached photo. Ask how they think each version of the same person is feeling and reference the article as well as their own experiences to support their answers.

7. Repeat Pass the Word, this time having students use both body language and tone to influence the interpretation of their word or phrase.


Ask students about different situations in which tone and body language play in important role (job interviews, speeches, general conversations, classroom discussions, if a student were called to the principal, etc.). Make a note that an audience or other person is influenced by words in ways that go beyond their literal meaning and these are things for which a speaker can be responsible.

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