There second sentence sounds like the speaker asked

There is often a mismatch between the intentions of a speaker and the perceptions of a listener. In this lesson, we will look at ways that verbal and nonverbal communication convey thoughts, and how they may function in a classroom setting.


There are a variety of ways that teachers and students communicate with one another. Verbal communication is the use of words to convey meaning. However, nonverbal communication, which includes all aspects of body language, is more than half of all perceived communication according to researcher Albert Mehrabian. Let’s look at the ways that students and teachers communicate with one another in the classroom.

Verbal Communication

Verbal communication is more than the words that are said. Verbal signals are received in different ways depending on tone, stress, and voice inflection. Vocal tone is used to convey the emotions of the speaker but can often be misinterpreted.

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People with loud voices and direct language are often perceived as having a negative tone that was not intended. For example, Sarah may misread that Christopher is angry with her because Christopher has a loud voice.Vocal stress emphasizes a word or words in a sentence to express meaning.

For example, ‘I did not tell you to complete the written portion of the assignment,’ with the emphasis on the word ‘I’ is perceived differently from saying, ‘I did not tell you to complete the written portion of the assignment,’ with the emphasis on the word ‘written.’ In the first sentence, it sounds like the speaker is defending that the message did not come from him, while the second sentence sounds like the speaker asked the listener to complete a different part of the assignment.Vocal inflection is a change of pitch or tone to express meaning. For example, if someone asks a question and you say, ‘no,’ with a downward inflection, it sounds commanding. However, if you say, ‘no’ with an upward inflection, it sounds as if you’re asking a question and may inspire debate.

Nonverbal Communication

Is what you say or how you say it more important? Nonverbal communication conveys much more meaning than verbal language.

At times, the message is confused by the recipient, so it’s smart to be mindful of how nonverbal language will be perceived. Some nonverbal forms of communication include body language, eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures. Personal space can also convey meaning either intentionally or unintentionally. For example, in the middle of a presentation about nonrenewable resources, Jamie leans in to an audience member without breaking eye contact. She has grabbed that listener’s attention using nonverbal communication. Her actions may also be perceived as aggressive. Students need to understand the messages they’re sending through their nonverbal communication.


Culture influences the way people communicate. In a classroom setting, it’s likely that students will communicate with peers from different backgrounds. Each culture has a unique way of transmitting and receiving information. In the event that native language is also a barrier, literal translations may create even further confusion.Cultures are classified as high-context or low-context.

High-context cultures, such as those found in most of the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and South America, communicate heavily through relationships, context, and nonverbal cues. However, low-context cultures, which are typically English and German-speaking countries, usually rely more on direct messages. In the classroom, this may mean that an Asian student would feel uncomfortable in a debate because she is more concerned about the relationship with the other person than in ‘winning’ the argument. When high-context and low-context cultures work together, there is a chance that trust will be a factor because of this difference in communication styles.

In the Classroom

Teachers need to understand communication styles and barriers to reduce conflict with students, parents, and coworkers. Similarly, students need to be aware of how their peers communicate.

The perceptions of the listener do not always match the intentions of the speaker. Teachers also need to help students understand that when they’re giving presentations in class and working together in cooperative groups, they should be mindful that perceptions do not always match intentions. Mannerisms and tones alter a message in both oral presentations and group interactions. Students who are instructed on how to use active listening skills are less likely to become engaged in conflicts due to miscommunication.

Lesson Summary

Verbal communication includes not only word choice, but the tone, stress, and inflections that are used to emphasize points and express emotions. Nonverbal communication includes body language, eye contact, personal space, gestures, and facial expressions.

Research shows that more than half of receptive communication comes from nonverbal, rather than verbal communication.High-context cultures, such as those in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and South America, depend much more heavily on nonverbal cues, while low-context cultures, such as those in the United States, England, and Germany, place much more value on using precise language. Students, as well as teachers, need to understand the ways that body language and tone are interpreted by others so they can mindfully project their intended message when doing oral presentations and working with others.


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