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  • Erin Salthouse

5 Ways to Engage Non-Verbal Learners

This is not a comprehensive list, but a fun way to get started.

As a museum educator, you may have non-verbal learners in your group with only a few minutes to get acquainted and pick up on strategies others use for communication with that individual. This is why the first priority for engaging is to


1.

Be Observant. Observe how members of the group interact with each other, and if there are any hand signals they all use. For example, I ask teachers or chaperones of every group if they have a signal to get everyone’s attention. This continuity of signals can help refocus everyone more easily than a new call to attention. When the group is comprised of adults, a one on one introduction is more appropriate as a means of initially getting attention.


2.

Be Expressive. Use your facial expressions and hand gestures to emphasize what you are talking about. Don’t overdo it- this isn’t a game of charades or your big moment to break into Broadway, and you don’t want to condescend, but make sure you are visually dynamic. I dislike wearing makeup, but I will always put some on for work to emphasize my features and make it easier to see my expressions.


3.

Ask for Feedback. As you go through your tour, ask participants to point, give a thumbs up or down, and raise their hands to participate. If there is an image or touch object you can bring around, give all participants a chance to touch and see up close. You may need to give nonverbal participants a bit more time to answer and you may need to rephrase the question. Everyone will become more engaged when they have the chance to give feedback.


4.

Be Flexible. Your pacing may be different from other tours you give, you may take a different route. One thing I love about using object based inquiry in my teaching is that the focus is on the learner’s interest. With non-verbal participants, you can use visuals to help provide choices like a 9x9 grid of potential stops on the tour’s theme. You can also pay close attention to their responses and adjust your tour, as you would for every group, based on the excitement level.


5.

Relax. It can be intimidating to work with a new audience, and you be suddenly aware of all the things you don’t know or are concerned about. Most museums will not throw an educator onto a tour without adequate preparation and support, so reach out if you ever feel out of your depth. You likely already have the basic skills needed for a fantastic tour, you might just need to think about a few adjustments to make it just as great for non-verbal participants.


These are just some starting points. It is vital that you continue to learn and seek out information and strategies for engaging all audiences. Museum Access is a continuous learning and growing process on both a personal and institutional level.

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© 2017 by Erin Salthouse

 Last updated  June 2020.