# I Visualization Strategies: Depictive Gestures

These strategies use depictive gestures to communicate mental imagery and to help clarify it.

Depictive gestures: Gestures that represent shapes, locations, movement, changes, or forces.

These gestures appear to create pictures in the air, usually in front of the speaker about chest high or higher.1 There are many kinds of physical gestures that teachers can make while talking in front of the class, but depictive gestures, in particular, can help students “see” what you are seeing.

We notice skilled science teachers using gestures to:

• Represent a system.
• Represent forces or motion in a system.
• Indicate motion in static drawings.

Noticing student gestures can also give the teacher information about student thinking in the moment.

 Example 1 A teacher gesturing to show her middle school class how valves in a vein might function to keep blood from flowing backward. Example 2 In a high school class on gravity, it became apparent that at least two students were certain that gravity was partly or wholly caused by the Earth’s spinning. Another student disagreed, saying, “Everything pulls on everything else,” but this was not enough to convince those students. An animated discussion followed, with students giving real-world examples to bolster their claims (including a ride at the fair that spins and makes riders stick to the wall). One student began by arguing that most of gravity was caused by spinning, but over the course of a 2-day discussion, changed his mind. His words expressed this, but the gestures he used to demonstrate the pull of the Earth also changed. Other students used gestures to demonstrate their understanding that spinning would normally result in a centripetal force away from the Earth. Figure 1: Student describing the Earth’s pull of gravity at a point in the lesson where he thinks that “pulling” is a minor effect, and that the spinning of the Earth is the main source of gravity. Figure 2: The same student the next day, after he has revised his thinking to believe that the “main force of gravity” is “pulling” rather than “spinning.” He gestures as he says, “The Earth has more pull on you…. “

Background

More about how gestures and other visual-support strategies support the rest of the framework is in the following pages:

Articles, Papers and Websites

More examples of depictive gestures being used in class discussion are in these papers from our team:

Expert scientific reasoning processes and imagery: Case studies of high school science classes (Stephens & Clement, 2009)

Identifying teaching strategies that support thinking with imagery during model-based discussions (Stephens, Clement, Price, & Núñez-Oviedo, 2017)

1A classic book on gesture is Hand and Mind by David McNeill (1992).