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Words in Action
Using Gestures to Improve Verb Learning in Primary School Children
Jacqueline A. de Nooijer, Tamara van Gog, Fred Paas, and Rolf A. Zwaan, Institute of Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
According to theories of embodied cognition, action and language are closely intertwined (e.g., Fischer & Zwaan, 2008). This phenomenon might be exploited to improve verb learning, by combining verbal instructions with motor
stimulation evoked by action observation, action imitation or enactment (i.e., self-generation of a gesture).
Experiment 2
Experiment 1
Research question
Research questions
- What is the effect of the moment at which a gesture is imitated (i.e., during the encoding phase, retrieval
phase, or during both the encoding and the retrieval phase) on verb learning, compared to learning gesture
observation only?
- To what extent are gestures helpful for learning different types of verbs?
- What is the most effective manner in which gestures can be used in verb learning:
via action observation, imitation, or enactment?
• Within-subjects design
• Between-subjects design
• 49 Dutch primary school children (89 years old)
• 120 Dutch primary school children
(9-11 years old)
• 3 verb types: locomotion, object
manipulation and abstract verbs
• 3 verb types: locomotion, object
manipulation and abstract verbs
• Post test: recall test and fill-in-the
gap test
• Post test: recall test and fill-in-the
gap test (immediate and after one
Recall test object manipulation words
Recall test
* p = .04
* p = .001
* p = .16
Verb type
Discussion and Conclusion
Observing, imitating, and generating gestures may have different effects depending on verb type. Experiment 1 showed that action execution seems to benefit children with high verbal skills only and that observing gestures only had positive
effects on learning verbs that have a direct link to the motor system (i.e., locomotion and object-manipulation, but not abstract verbs). Experiment 2 showed that the moment at which a gesture is imitated can influence its effectiveness in
word learning. Both studies also suggest that effects of gestures were limited to immediate or delayed recall of newly learned words (as opposed to the ability to apply newly learned information).
Fischer, M. H., & Zwaan, R. A. (2008). Embodied language: A review of the role of motor system in language comprehension. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61(6), 825-850.
Correspondence: [email protected]