Embodied Mind: The Dancer and Dance and Grammar

“How can we know the dancer from the dance?” Yeats famously wrote. And in the dance of human communication, the body plays a role. Language is more than word choice or grammar, and even more than prosody. Gesture, body language, facial expression are all tools of meaning-making. This is why study of the embodied mind, how the mind and body are not separate, has been informative for linguistics and education. Alice and Colin, authors of the forthcoming 60 Kinesthetic Grammar Activities, have written about ways to use the body in teaching grammar:

Embodied Mind in the Grammar Classroom: Research and Activities

….Is a kinesthetic approach to grammar pedagogically sound, and could we do more of it?

After doing a bit of research, we discovered that the answer is yes and yes. A quick review of neurolinguistics research confirms what many educators and philosophers have guessed, that the body plays a role, not only in communication but also memory, recall, and even cognitive processing.

One way this happens is through emotions, which are reflected in physical postures and expressions. Another is gesturing, which “offloads” some of work by allowing the body to help with the thinking. (An easy example is counting on our fingers.) Studies cited by multiple authors show that students who use gestures remember more than students who don’t.

Still another is through mirror neurons. Otherwise known as empathy neurons, they allow our brain to experience other people’s intentions and feelings even if we have a different point of view. We gather this information through the eyes and ears so that we might perceive feelings such as enthusiasm or disapproval. More importantly, mirror neurons are also powerful in retention and recall. One study found that simply watching someone perform an action aids in storage and retrieval.

These findings explain why drama and improvisation are such powerful tools in learning, and why including non-verbal signaling is important in conversation practice. There are goals, tactics and expectations that people have when interacting with others that go far beyond the literal meaning of words. In fact, our non-verbal communication is often more trustworthy! People are uncomfortable when they don’t perceive the intention behind the words so language learners who speak in a monotone are at a disadvantage in social situations. This is reflected in a quote by a student who participated in a process drama activity led by Miriam Stewart:

I am not me in English…In Portuguese I am funny, I am smart, in English I am disconnected. Body is one thing, brain is another. I translate the words but they are just words, no feelings. No me. Today is the first time I feel like me in English.

Check out the original post on English Endeavors to read more and get some ideas for activities to teach grammar dynamically!


Looking for more?

Browse all our free resources for doing drama in the classroom at Plays and Drama Resources for Students. 

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