Skip Discover Education Main Navigation

6-8 > Human Body
Grade level: 6-8 Subject: Human Body Duration: Two class periods
sections
Objectives | Materials | Procedures | Adaptations | Discussion Questions | Evaluation | Extensions | Suggested Readings | Links | Vocabulary | Academic Standards | Credit
print this lesson plan

Objectives
 



lesson plan support

Students will understand the following:
1. Human body language, including gestures and facial expressions, is used to communicate in countless subtle and complex ways.
2. The meanings of gestures and facial expressions can differ from one culture or geographical region to another.
3. The noted zoologist Desmond Morris has done important research in the area of nonverbal communication by human beings. Some of his most interesting work can be found in his bookThe Naked Ape.
Materials

For this lesson, you will need:
Computer with Internet access
The Naked Apeby Desmond Morris (optional)
Procedures

1. Ask students if they are familiar with the termbody language. If they are not, introduce it at this point, mentioning the termnonverbal communicationas well.
2. Encourage your students to contribute examples of body language—gestures and facial expressions that communicate ideas and feelings without the use of words.
3. Invite students to note any cultural differences of which they are aware in the use of body language. For example, if any students come from Greek families, they might share with the class that many Greek people use an upward head nod to indicate “no” rather than a side-to-side head shake.
4. Familiarize your students with Desmond Morris’s bookThe Naked Ape,telling them that Morris is a noted zoologist, who has written many fascinating books (includingDogwatchingandCatwatching, for those interested in analyses of nonhuman behavior).
5. Have students research Morris on the Internet to find out more about his work, or inform them that inThe Naked ApeMorris analyzes human behavior, especially the way humans communicate nonverbally.
6. Organize your class into groups or pairs. Ask them to use a strategy similar to Morris’s by stationing themselves in a selected location to observe human body language.
7. Have each group select a location in which to “people watch.” Students should consider locations such as shopping malls, parks, museums, the school cafeteria, and places where social functions or sports events will be taking place. Remind students that their criteria for a location should include accessibility, the opportunity to remain unobtrusive, and appropriateness. Students should be able to position themselves so that they can observe people communicating and interacting without hearing their conversations or intruding on the privacy of others.
8. Have students submit their locations for your approval before making their final decisions.
9. Once each group has selected an approved location, have the groups do their observing as a homework assignment. Concentrating on nonverbal communication, they should record all gestures, postures, and facial expressions they observe for a 15-minute period, noting the frequency of each.
10. Have students write up summaries of their observations, accompanied by interpretations. What type of interaction might have been going on between the individuals observed? How might the individuals have been related? Did one seem dominant in the relationship?
11. Have groups share their summaries and interpretations in class.
Back to Top
Adaptations

Adaptations for Older Students:
Have students read the bookThe Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris, and review it in writing.
Back to Top
Discussion Questions

1. What anatomical differences set man apart from other primates?
2. What methodology does Desmond Morris use to collect data on human behavior?
3. What are some of the problems an observer encounters while studying and interpreting human behavior?
Back to Top
Evaluation

You can evaluate your students on their summaries and interpretations using the following three-point rubric:
Three points:summaries clear and well written; interpretations well reasoned and supported by observations
 
Two points:summaries adequate; interpretations vague and lacking in support
 
One point:summaries unclear and poorly written; interpretations vague and lacking in support
 
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining a minimum number of observations to be included in each summary.
Back to Top
Extensions

Animal Watching
Repeat the “People Watching” activity at a zoo, observing nonhuman primates (apes and monkeys) instead of human beings.

A Kiss Is Still a Kiss . . . or Is It?
The origins of gestures may go back thousands of years, and a gesture may change in meaning as it is passed from one generation to the next. Have each student research a gesture he or she chooses and report to the class on the origins of that gesture. Is the gesture unique to one culture? Are there variations on the gesture? Does the same gesture have a different meaning in another geographic region? Is the gesture universally understood? Here are some possible ideas:
Kissing
Power grip
Smiling
Yes/no gestures
Head gestures (shaking, tossing, wobbling, nodding)
Repelling gestures
Inviting gestures

Back to Top
Suggested Readings

Bodytalk: The Meaning of Human Gestures
Desmond Morris, Crown, 1995
Desmond Morris' most recent work explains in detail his conclusions about the meaning of human gestures. The book review journal "Booklist" describes this as an appropriate adult book for young adults.

Body Language: An Introduction to Non-Verbal Communication [videorecording]
Stage Fright Productions, Learning Seed, 1993
To become expert communicators, high school students and adults can master the instructions for gestures, signals, eye contact, posture and control of personal space that are demonstrated in this videotape.

The Human Face: Emotions, Identities and Masks [videorecording]
Dane Archer, University of California Extension Center for Media, 1996
What and how our face, especially our eyes, reveal about our individual identity, and how others understand our identity and determine our attractiveness, is demonstrated in this videocassette.

"Hands That Speak Volumes"
Savitry Nair and Desmond Morris, UNESCO Courier, September 1993
In Desmond Morris' case study of the special role of hand gestures, or "Mudra," in Indian culture, he and his colleague describe the unique spiritual interpretations applied to this type of nonverbal communication in India.

Back to Top
Links

Online Social Psychology Studies
Introduces students to the world of social science research, and highlights the power of the Internet as a vehicle for gathering information.

Non-Verbal Communication
Designed for the businessman or tourist visiting Japan. Has some interesting details concerning gestures and non verbal communication.

Animated American Sign Language
Have students learn how to sign their name and construct simple sentences. Students of all ages will improvise signs to make their meaning clearer.

Exploring Nonverbal Communication
Concise and interactive introduction to the topic of nonverbal communication.

Research into Nonverbal Communication
For advanced level science and social studies students, this site demonstrates how researchers approach the study of nonverbal communication.

Back to Top
Vocabulary

Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    primate
Definition:Any of an order (Primates) of mammals comprising humans, apes, monkeys, and related forms (as lemurs and tarsiers).
Context:Physically the human is a puny primate.

speaker    zoologist
Definition:A scientist who studies the branch of biology concerned with the classification and the properties and vital phenomena of animals.
Context:I'm a zoologist.

speaker    gesticulating
Definition:Making gestures, especially when speaking.
Context:There were two men gesticulating in a particular way.

speaker    body language
Definition:The gestures, movements, and mannerisms by which a person or animal communicates with others.
Context:I introduced people to the fascinating study of human body language.

speaker    egalitarian
Definition:Adhering to a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people.
Context:The essential feature of handshaking is that it is an egalitarian act.

Back to Top
Standards

This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
 
Grade level:6-8
Subject area:behavioral studies
Standard:
Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity, and behavior.
Benchmarks:
Understands that each culture has distinctive patterns of behavior that are usually practiced by most of the people who grow up in it.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:behavioral studies
Standard:
Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity, and behavior.
Benchmarks:
Understands that people often take differences (e.g., in speech, dress, behavior, physical features) to be signs of social class.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:behavioral studies
Standard:
Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity, and behavior.
Benchmarks:
Understands that heredity, culture, and personal experience interact in shaping human behavior, and that the relative importance of these influences is not clear in most circumstances.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:behavioral studies
Standard:
Understands various meanings of social group, general implications of group membership, and different ways that groups function.
Benchmarks:
Understands that a variety of factors (e.g., belief systems, learned behavior patterns) contribute to the ways in which groups respond differently to their physical and social environments and to the wants and needs of their members.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:behavioral studies
Standard:
Understands various meanings of social group, general implications of group membership, and different ways that groups function.
Benchmarks:
Understands that a large society may be made up of many groups, and these groups may contain many distinctly different subcultures (e.g., associated with region, ethnic origin, social class, interests, values).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:behavioral studies
Standard:
Understands various meanings of social group, general implications of group membership, and different ways that groups function.
Benchmarks:
Understands that social groups may have patterns of behavior, values, beliefs, and attitudes that can help or hinder cross-cultural understanding.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:behavioral studies
Standard:
Understands that interactions among learning, inheritance, and physical development affect human behavior.
Benchmarks:
Knows that some animal species are limited to a repertoire of genetically determined behaviors and others have more complex brains and can learn a wide variety of behaviors.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:behavioral studies
Standard:
Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions.
Benchmarks:
Understands how role, status, and social class may affect interactions of individuals and social groups.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:technology
Standard:
Understands the scientific enterprise.
Benchmarks:
Knows that individuals and teams have contributed and will continue to contribute to the scientific enterprise; doing science or engineering can be as simple as an individual conducting field studies or as complex as hundreds of people working on a major scientific question or technological problem.

Back to Top
Credit

Lisa Lyle Wu, biology teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia.
Back to Top