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Want to teach better? New study says use your hands

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One key to more effective teaching could be as simple as talking with your hands, according to a new study from the University of Iowa and Michigan State University.

The study released yesterday in the educational psychology journal "Child Development" tested third and fourth grade math students in Michigan. It found that students taught with hand gestures performed better on tests of the material both immediately after the lesson and 24 hours later.

For the study, the students were split into two groups. Half were shown a video of an instructor's lecture where he did not use his hands.  The other half of the students received the same information, but the instructor also used hand gestures.

Exactly why gestures help students learn better is still a mystery. The study authors said one possibility could be that gestures "clarify or provide conceptual information that is not readily apparent in the accompanying speech."

"Hand gestures can often times illustrate a concept that you can't illustrate in speech," said co-author Kimberly Fenn, a psychology professor at Michigan State University.

Fenn suggests teachers and parents consider using their hands when trying to teach new concepts to kids. She said the key is using motions that convey meaning.

"Use your hands to not just reinforce what you're saying but to illustrate what you're saying," she said.

Previous studies have looked at the effectiveness of hand gestures, but this is the first study to look at how gestures play out in a classroom setting. A 2007 study found that teachers in Japan and Hong Kong are more likely to use rich and conceptual hand gestures than teachers in the U.S.

Are you a hand talker? Do you you think gestures help learning? How do the students in your life learn best?

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