No Series: Thumbs Up! Signals to Encourage Active Listening

Thumbs Up! Signals to Encourage Active Listening

Lesson Objective: Use hand signals to encourage active listening
All Grades / All Subjects / Participation


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Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. What is the effect of using hand signals instead of hand raising?
  2. How do hand signals help teachers?
  3. Why does Ms. Brewer ask her students to use two distinct hand signals?


  • Private message to Jeremy Alexander

 1. Unlike hand raising, using thumbs up and fingers provides a more specific feedback system and it encourages the student to think about what they are going to say. 

2. Hand signals promote active listening and helps the teacher facilitate the lesson.

3. The 2-finger signal requires active listening on the students' part because adding something requires them to know what has been said by someone else.

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  • Private message to Jeremy Dixon
This strategy allows students to be engaged with one another. It allows students to add on to what another student says. I also like how students are using each others name to acknowledge each other.
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  • Private message to Lynda Campbell
This idea can help the class run smoothly.
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  • Private message to Ashley Holmes
Silent signals allow the children the opportunity to visually "tune in." This keeps the class more peaceful and allows me to hear less of my own voice.
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  • Private message to Estellal Jones

I like the thought of "hearing less of my own voice."  My first graders struggle with finding the voabulary to express themselves and I talk more than I want, to help them with their expression.  This strategy looks like an option that I will incorporate in my group discussions!

Recommended (0)
  • Private message to J Brosnan
Many students use piggy-backing in discussion but having them use the signal and the previous speakers name models that so well for others! In addition, I teach my students the sign for "me, too" when they want to show they agree but don't necessarily have anything more to add.
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    Common core: ELA
    Delivering and Evaluating a Persuasive Speech
    00:02:00 STACY BREWER: We’re ready to get started? TEXT:
    Hand Signals


    Common core: ELA
    Delivering and Evaluating a Persuasive Speech
    00:02:00 STACY BREWER: We’re ready to get started? TEXT:
    Hand Signals
    00:02:06 STUDENTS: Yeah.
    00:02:07 STACY BREWER: Okay. Oh, wow, lots of thinking. Okay, Julio, start us off.
    00:02:11 STACY BREWER: I use the strategy of hand signals in order to promote active listening. I also use hand signals to help me facilitate the conversation. TEXT:
    Stacy Brewer
    5th Grade teacher
    Stevenson Elementary – Bellevue, WA
    00:02:20 STACY BREWER: Two fingers if you have something to add onto what somebody has already said TEXT:
    2 fingers = “I have something to add”
    00:02:24 and thumbs up if you have something new to say, right? TEXT:
    thumbs up = “I have something new to say”
    00:02:27 BOY: Yeah.
    00:02:28 STACY BREWER: Alright, Alan you have something new.
    00:02:30 ALAN E.: [inaudible] when they, when they told him to leave the horses, I thought they were going to steal them.
    00:02:38 STACY BREWER: In order to add something to what somebody else said, you have to be actively listening to what that person said to know that it makes a connection with what someone said.
    00:02:49 GIRL: I had something to add about the horses to Alan E. They weren’t going to steal them. They actually asked the chief if they could have some horses.
    00:03:01 STACY BREWER: The strategy has been really effective because raising your hand wasn’t enough. It gives students an opportunity to show me that they have something to say, but it also asks for a little bit more information.
    00:03:12 STACY BREWER: They have to tune in to know is this something new, has this already been said before, or am I adding onto what my partner just said?
    00:03:23 STACY BREWER: Elisa.
    00:03:24 ELISA: I’m going to add onto Natalia’s.
    00:03:26 STACY BREWER: You want to add onto what we were just talking about? [inaudible words]
    00:03:30 BOY: yes, um, um.
    00:03:30 STACY BREWER: Jesus.
    00:03:31 JESUS: Um, on page 638 at the bottom…
    00:03:35 STACY BREWER: That was great how you guys jumped in and tried to clarify and added your own evidence and thinking to that.
    Tch Teaching Channel

School Details

Stevenson Elementary School
14220 Ne 8th St
Bellevue WA 98007
Population: 495

Data Provided By:



Stacy Brewer


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