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Using Hand Signals in the Classroom

Using hand signals in the classroom is the biggest game changer when it comes to building a foundation for classroom management. Hand signals are a staple in providing structure and boundaries in a class.

Have you ever been sitting with a small group of students who are emerged in some deep learning, or have you been working with a student one on one who is finally having that light bulb moment only to be interrupted by a student who merely needs to sharpen a pencil?!?!? 

Well, that has happened to me many times, and it’s a bit frustrating. Using hand signals in the classroom has been the biggest game changer. It can improve the behavior and classroom mood.

My first year of teaching was full of those interrupting moments. So many times, I would be immersed in teaching a small group, and I’d have that one student who needed a tissue, a pencil sharpened, a question about what time lunch is….again, or an “every 5-minute” bathroom goer come stand next to me to ask one of these questions. 

If your students are like mine, once one comes up, they all have the green light to come ask me a question.  Several months into my first year of teaching, and I was already frustrated with the interruptions. “Can’t they just leave me alone?” coursed through my mind more than I’d like to admit. 

A lack of classroom management was not going to win! I started using these hand signals in the classroom, and they made a world of difference.

Using hand signals in the classroom for classroom management quickly became one of my staples after the first year of frustration. 

Using hand signals in the classroom

To teach the procedures behind using hand signals, I spend the first weeks of school every year immersing my students in classroom management procedures as well as modeling the proper and improper way of doing things. This procedure is the one thing the students are so eager to learn because it is different. The kiddos quickly catch on every year.

Hand Signal #1: Bathroom

If a student needs to go to the bathroom, all they have to do is hold the number 1 finger in the air. 

I tell my kiddos they can’t just assume that once the hand signal for the bathroom goes in the air, they can quickly dart off to the bathroom. 

This is something that takes work. I have had students hold up the finger then dart off out of the room. 

I have to explain a few time that they we have to make eye contact, and they are to wait for me to give a cue for yes or no. 

bulletin board with hand signal #1: bathroom poster
Using hand signals in the classroom cuts down on small group interruptions.
Bulletin Board with poster for hand signal #2 tissue
Using a specific hand signal for tasks such as asking for a tissue helps to alleviate disruptions.

Hand Signal #2: Tissue

Tissue season is in full swing 180 days out of the school year! It is inevitable that some sweet baby or babies are going to need to blow their noses continuously during class. 

You would think that tissue season would only be during the cold season…nope! I don’t want a sweet baby interrupting brainpower time when they only need a tissue. 

Gotta blow your nose…hold up 2 fingers! This solves the interruption problem, but it somehow doesn’t fix the lack of tissues. I think that will always be a problem..unfortunately.

hand signal #3: Pencil

You know where I am going with this one, right?!?!?! Pencil sharpening happens every 1.6 seconds in my room. 

Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it seems to happen pretty often. Again, I merely make eye contact and nod my head either yes or no. 

This procedure helps to cut down on those sneaky ones who want to make a 5-minute detour across the other side of the room just to hit their friend on the head or pass a “check yes or no” note.

This is also a great way to cut down on unnecessary noises when students are trying to test. If a kiddo raises their hands, and we are testing, I will go over to check the pencil before letting them just get up to make that detour. 

Bulletin board poster for hand signal #3 pencil
Cut down on noisy disruptions by having your students use hand signals in the classroom.
Bulletin board poster hand signal #4 water
Keep an eye on those who love to wander the hall by using hand signals.

Hand Signal #4: Water

It is inevitable that every year I have several sweet kiddos who love to visit in the hallway. 

Hallway visiting is the best especially during work time or instruction time. There is something about chillin’ with a friend by the water fountain for 5 minutes every half hour. 

Do you know what that means? If I have 20 students, and 5 of them want to get water every 30 minutes…..that is a whole lot of small group or one on one interruption time. 

Students raise their hand, and I take a minute to think, “Is this the 5th or 6th time Johnny has left the room to visit with a friend…I mean get water?” See my point?!?!?!

Hand Signal #5: Question

This one is a little bit harder to decipher from afar. I haven’t quite mastered the skill of mind-reading, but I do quickly learn mannerisms; therefore, I typically have a good idea of why a student is raising his or her hand. 

Most of the time, it is a genuine question for help. However, sometimes it is to ask me what time we are going to recess or lunch. 

I don’t know about you, but typically those scheduled times are often apart of our daily routine, and kiddos should have those times mastered by mid year.

Bulletin board poster for hand signal #5 question
Hand signal #5 helps tremendously when working in small group with other students.

Final Thoughts on Using hand signals in the classroom

As you can see, using hand signals in the classroom as part of my management procedures are a significant plus in my room and have been each year! 

My kiddos move on in the years that follow with these signals engrained in the brain. I get comments from upper-grade new teachers who have no idea why Johnny is raising his hand with a number 2 until she or he quickly learns about the hand signals I use in my classroom.

This procedure is a simple, yet highly effective, procedure that will always be a staple in my class. 

If you are interested in purchasing these hand signals, please click the link will take you to this product in my TPT store. 

This hand signal resource includes the colors you see above as well as four other sets that are all bright colors. If you have any questions or would like a different color scheme, please contact me for a custom product. 

You might also like my back-to-school tips blog post! My email is uniquelyupper@gmail.com.

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Hey there! I'm Rachel

Hey there…I am so glad you are here. I hope  you find content that truly resonates and helps you in your classroom. Please feel free to send me an email if you have any questions or concerns. Thanks!

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