Describing Body Language – IWB lesson

Levels: strong intermediate to advanced.
Ages: teens; adults.
Type: matching exercise; watching and listening to a video of tight-rope walker Philippe Petit to discuss ideas about body language and how status and feelings are conveyed by native and non-native language users; optional interactive whiteboard downloads.
Skills: speaking; listening; reading; writing.
Language focus: vocab – parts of the body/ describing body language.

Note: the idea of the body language table comes from Listening by Goodith White (Oxford Resource Books for Teachers: 1998).

a SMARTboard interactive whiteboard and a download of this lesson (if you don’t have a SMARTboard, you can try this pdf version of the worksheet pages);
pens and paper;
video one and video two (from youtube);
if you want, you can download these videos via keepvid – simply enter the URL in the searchbox at the top of keepvid’s page and press enter, then right-click on the “download high quality” option near the bottom of the new page – then add them as an attachment to your interactive whiteboard lesson).


  1. Show the first page of the IWB display and give students five minutes in pairs to try and match the adjectives with parts of the body.
  2. Ask students to come up the board and try and match the adjectives by dragging them with their fingers to the appropriate parts of the body.
  3. Let the students agree on the order; when they have done so, check by showing them page two.
    Show the students page three and ask if they know who Philippe Petit is. If they haven’t heard of him, point to the picture and ask what they think he is like: a thief? a criminal? a scientist?
    Play the students the video below (taken from youtube) and explain that this is what Philippe Petit does.

  4. Elicit vocabulary from students – “tightrope walker/walking,” “a highwire artiste,” etc. and that there is no safety net or harness. Ask them what they think of this spectacle – is it art? Is it vandalism? Ask them if they would like to try a tightrope walk.
  5. Draw an outline of the World Trade Center on the board and elicit from the students what it is. Draw a rope between the towers and ask them if they would walk between the towers.
  6. If you like, you can show students this video, which shows Philippe Petit’s famous walk between the twin towers in 1974.

  7. Explain that Philippe Petit was recently the star of an Oscar-winning documentary, Man On Wire, about his walk between these twin towers, and that the students will now watch an interview with him. Ask them how old they think he is now and how they think he will describe himself – will he be boastful or modest? What adjectives will he use to describe what he does? What do they think his body language will be like?
  8. Play the third video (below) and elicit the answers.

  9. Show the fourth page and ask your students to copy the table. Explain that you’ll play the interview again, and this time they should watch out for the body language used by Philippe Petit, his director and the interviewer. What can they find out about these people from their body language? You can show page two of the IWB lesson to remind them of the words used to describe this body language.
  10. Play the third video a couple more times and allow students to write notes in their copy of the table.
  11. Ask students to compare notes in small groups; then check and give feedback with the whole class. Were they surprised by any of the interactions? How much could they tell about the people from their body language?
  12. Possible follow-up: This lesson naturally leads into job interview-style lessons, or group roleplays (for example, the banana game, which also focusses on intonation patterns).

2 thoughts on “Describing Body Language – IWB lesson

  1. That man (Phillipe Petit) is amazing. Also his English is very beautiful and worth using as listening material; it’s very French and yet he’s made the language his own. You could choose something like this

    if you like working with body language…

    Or this

    if you’re interested in English as a Lingua Franca (note the way the interviewer feels it necessary to paraphrase him but also has to credit him with his poetry – i.e. even if he misses the 3rd person -s he sounds good). You could explore the way he puts words together unconventially (twist in the story: twist in the tale, no? but it works – and learners of internationally-minded English should be aware that their “mis”collocations can work just fine. Or you could do an error correction excercise if you’re more traditionally-minded (resist to say, missed -s; present for past etc); look at successful word combinations (“close relationship” “transformed into something else”); use of hand gestures to help express meaning… I haven’t done it yet but I reckon a very interesting lesson could come of it (especially with an advanced class) :-)

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