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This exercise is designed to help students understand the difficulties that come with struggling to effectively comprehend, detect, or apply language. In this exercise, meaning must be communicated without words.


Start by generating a list of a couple simple sentences. Sentences could include:

  • Cats love to drink warm milk.
  • Fish are friends, not food.
  • The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
  • The grey owl likes sitting in trees.
  • Volcanoes are scary when lava erupts.
  • The green snake slithered over a rock.
Tell the sentence to one of your students. That student must then communicate the sentence to the rest of the class without speaking, writing, or using letters of the alphabet. Give the class an opportunity to take several guesses at what the sentence is. After some time has passed, you can reveal the sentence.

Ask the class some reflective questions after the activity. Was it difficult to communicate without words? Was it hard to understand what was being communicated without words? How can we better communicate with someone who can’t talk back? How can we help everyone better communicate? Hopefully this exercise will help children understand everyone communicates in different ways and traditional verbal communication may not be the easiest way for everyone to communicate.

Spotlight: Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking is perhaps one of the most famous scientists of the 21st Century. Stephen made incredible contributions to physics and astronomy. In 1963, Stephen was diagnosed with ALS. By 1979, Stephen's condition had worsened to the point where his speech was so slurred that many strugged to understand him. In 1985, Stephen was on a trip to Geneva when he caught pneumonia. The doctors managed to contain the infection, but had to perform a tracheotomy to save Dr. Hawking's life. From that day forward, Stephen was no longer able to speak. Loss of voice did not stop one of the world's brightest minds from contributing to science. Using a computer program called Equalizer, Dr. Hawking was able to communicate at 15 words per minute using just the click of a few buttons. Dr. Hawking has delivered countless speeches and interviews all using the Equalizer program.

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