Using Nonverbal Communication in a
• In tutoring it is important to engage the
student not only with verbal communication
but nonverbal as well.
• As a tutor, your body language, posture, and
eye contact can convey just as much as your
words to the student.
• Giving positive nonverbal cues sends a
message to the student that you are engaged
in the session, and they should be as well.
Using Nonverbal Communication:
The Positive and the Negative
CSC Productions, Inc.
The Ambivalent Tutor
The Apprehensive Student
In the college writing center, tutoring sessions are made up
of two distinct individuals: the students who come in for
assistance, and the tutors who assist them. Tutoring sessions
that involve negative nonverbal communication are
considered especially heinous. This is one such story.
What you are about to see depicts both the right and the
wrong forms of nonverbal communication between a
tutor and a student. Parental discretion is advised.
The following scenario took place on a Friday between 1pm
and 2pm. The exact date and times have been removed to
protect the rights of all individuals involved. The incident
took place between a Communication Skills Center tutor and
a Quinsigamond Community College student. It has been
documented for your viewing.
Jenna is hovering in the doorway to the
center, clearly unsure of where to go or
what to do.
Maggie is not acknowledging her at all,
disinterested and more engaged in her
phone than in helping Jenna.
Jenna is visibly engaged and comfortable
after being welcomed by Maggie.
Here, Maggie is friendly and welcoming,
engaging Jenna with a smile.
Even when Jenna approaches this side of
the desk with a quick question, she
expects to be welcomed by Maggie.
Maggie, however, is more interested in her
book than Jenna. Her foot is up on the
cabinet, and her back is turned, displaying
negative nonverbal communication.
Now that Maggie demonstrates that she’s
interested in Jenna’s question, Jenna
becomes engaged in Maggie’s answer,
leaning forward just as Maggie does.Maggie can welcome Jenna and show
interest by leaning forward and focusing
on the material or question that Jenna has.
Maggie’s gesture here instructing what
Jenna needs to do next after signing in
isn’t helpful at all to Jenna.
Jenna is unsure if she’s getting the right
form, and is clearly confused by Maggie’s
Here, Maggie instead goes through each
part of the form with Jenna, holding the
form directly in front of both of them and
gesturing to it to ensure that Jenna
understands what to fill out.
Jenna is more engaged here by Maggie’s
Once Jenna has her form filled out and
goes to the tutoring desk, she expects to be
greeted by welcoming tutors. Instead,
these tutors are more engaged in their own
work than in Jenna, avoiding eye contact
When the tutors are smiling and looking
directly at Jenna, she is clearly more
comfortable explaining what she needs
As Jenna is filling out the tutoring form,
Maggie demonstrates that she’s
disengaged from the session from the start,
distancing her chair from Jenna’s,
avoiding eye contact, and looking down at
Maggie’s initial nonverbal communication
makes Jenna feel apprehensive about
beginning their tutoring session.
As Jenna is filling the form out, Maggie
should be directly engaged, as she is here.
She is looking directly at the paper,
making eye contact with Jenna at times,
and making sure Jenna feels comfortable
from the start.
Jenna responds to Maggie’s nonverbal
cues by seeming much more comfortable
and willing to discuss her questions.
As Jenna explains her assignment and
begins to read her paper, Maggie is
listening, but her nonverbal cues may
show Jenna that she is disinterested. She
leans back away from the table, placing an
invisible barrier between her and Jenna.
Seeing this, Jenna becomes more
concerned with Maggie’s lack of interest,
and leans forward closer to her paper,
placing her arm on the paper and shielding
it from Maggie’s view.
Instead, as Jenna begins to explain her
assignment and read her paper aloud,
Maggie should be sitting straight as she is
here, visibly focused on the paper and
actively listening to what Jenna is saying.
Jenna now feels more comfortable to
begin to discuss her paper with Maggie.
She shows this by placing the paper so it is
visible to both of them and making direct
eye contact with Maggie.
As Jenna continues to read her paper
aloud, she comes to a sentence she would
like to discuss further with Maggie.
Leaning back and crossing her arms,
Maggie mistakenly places all authority on
Jenna to initiate the conversation.
Jenna simply wants to engage Maggie in
the paper as she is reading, and she
expects Maggie to demonstrate patience
with her and to respond to her when she is
Instead, when Jenna believes her part in
the session is finished when she is done
reading her paper, Maggie here leans
forward and gestures warmly to show that
she was actively listening and is ready to
start their conversation.
Jenna’s initial apprehension is visible by
her posture: she is leaned back away from
both Maggie and her paper, and her arms
Here, neither one of them wants to initiate
the conversation. Maggie is leaned far
away from the paper. Jenna is leaned away from the paper as
well; she is waiting for Maggie to speak
Maggie displays positive nonverbal
communication here by initiating the
discussion through positive gestures and
Taking note of Maggie’s nonverbal cues,
Jenna is actively listening as they begin
As the session continues, Maggie
demonstrates her disinterest by resting her
head on her arm. Jenna sees that as a clear
sign that Maggie is bored. Maggie also has
her pencil in her hand, telling Jenna that
she is correcting her mistakes rather than
Jenna leans back when she sees Maggie do
this, signaling that she is becoming less
interested in the paper and the session.
To remain engaged in the session, Maggie
should be watching as Jenna makes her
own corrections. She should have nothing
in her hands, and should shift her eye
contact between both Jenna and the paper.
Jenna is more engaged here as Maggie
shift authority to her; she feels
comfortable to make changes on her own
paper with Maggie’s guidance.
As the tutoring session ends, Maggie ends
their conversation abruptly by getting up
and beginning to walk away.
Jenna clearly has more questions for
Maggie, but it is difficult to approach her
when she has her back turned.
Instead of ending the session abruptly,
here Maggie allows the session to come to
a close naturally. She responds to Jenna’s
cues and begins to end the session by
leaning back slightly and gesturing as they
Jenna signals that her questions have been
answered and she is satisfied with what
she and Maggie have discussed by
beginning to get up from her chair.
As Maggie and Jenna say goodbye,
Maggie here remains more interested in
the form than in speaking with Jenna to
make sure she is comfortable with how the
Maggie’s nonverbal cues leave Jenna
without any closure to the session, and she
is still visibly confused as she leaves.
Using positive nonverbal communication,
Maggie ends the session by standing with
Jenna before Jenna leaves, speaking with
her and smiling to ensure that Jenna feels
comfortable with leaving. She might also
encourage Jenna to return with another
draft or her next paper.
Jenna is clearly satisfied with her session,
as she mirrors Maggie’s facial expression.
Her posture and her reaction to Maggie
signal that she is happy with what they’ve
discussed, and will most likely be back to
see Maggie again for future assignments.
From the start of your tutoring session to the end,
tutors and students convey nonverbal
communication towards one another. As tutors,
our role is not only to be aware of what our body
language, posture, and eye contact are
conveying to the student, but also to be aware of
what the student’s nonverbal communication is
conveying to us.
Nonverbal Cues: Conveying
Cast and Crew
The Ambivalent Tutor Maggie Nicholson
The Apprehensive Student Jenna Parker
Screenplay Maggie Nicholson