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  • Eileen McDargh

Hands Down. Hands Win.


Kids making a peace sign with their hands

When I taught an English class to 7th graders, literature was easy. Ah—but grammar—that was another matter. In the English language, pronouns are either subjective (she, he, they) or objective ( her, him, them).


Without getting into a grammar lesson, objective pronouns follow prepositions. But what the heck are prepositions? The only way to remember prepositions is just that: memorize. Booooooriing!!!!


So, I had my students stand up and do hand jive movements while they called out the prepositions: “About, above, across, after …” were shouted out as their hands did a paddy-cake type with a partner. It worked.


I never knew why until I read Annie Murphy Paul’s book The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain. In short, cognition is enhanced when coupled with motions of the hands and the rest of the body. Paul’s book extends gestures as critical for persuading or enlisting others. Think of a preacher who just stands behind a pulpit and reads to the congregation, versus another preacher who gesticulates often and probably strides around an altar.


Catalina just turned one. Her dad told me that she points to things as he says the word. And we all know that pick me up is one of a child’s first gestures. Not only do children expand vocabulary when words are accompanied with gestures—but adults are more likely to be engaged and understand complex topics when gestures are used!

Fascinating, yes?


For years, I have anchored key learning points with gestures. I ask my audience to make the gestures with me while they repeat the point. Might sound juvenile, but people tell me years later how they used that gesture in many settings.


Here’s the point: If you want someone to grasp ideas, solve problems, and increase understanding—think of ways your hands might tell the story.


Yes—hands down, the hands win when communicating.

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