The Engager: Mirror Words

When we want 100% engagement in our classes (and when don’t we?) a WBT instructor says, “Mirror words!” and holds up her hands. The students respond, “Mirror words!” and pick up their hands. The teacher speaks slowly and makes gestures illustrating the lesson. Her students repeat her words and mimic her gestures.

Mirroring gestures and repeating a lesson’s words activates students’ visual, motor and auditory cortices. Mirror lessons involve seeing, moving, hearing and speaking. We don’t have one exercise for kinesthetic learners, another exercise for visual learners, another exercise for auditory learners. We address all learning styles simultaneously.


Imagine a basketball coach with dribbling drills for natural dribblers and shooting drills for natural shooters and rebounding drills for natural rebounders. The coach designs lessons for each player’s strength, their natural 


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ability, their learning style. Practices might be pleasant; every kid does what she does best. Of course, at game time, players flail whenever called on to perform outside their skill set. 

The greatest athletes are often descried as having “the whole package.” They superbly perform every task involved in their sport. We want our students to be similarly blessed. In WBT, and specifically with Mirror Words, we don’t focus on one learning style, but on all of a student’s mental skills as an integrated whole. We want kids to develop every cognitive ability, not just their primary talents.

In Mirror Words we use two kinds of gestures, casual and memory. Casual gestures make lessons visual. If you are talking about active verbs, you might pump your arms as if you were running. If you are discussing the Mississippi, you might draw an invisible map in the air, tracing the river from Minnesota down to New Orleans. If you are talking about the Three Little Pigs, you might mime building houses of straw, sticks and bricks.

Memory gestures are motions that are linked to core concepts. If the lesson is on capital letters, you might raise one hand above the other showing a capital is a “big letter.” If you were talking about sorting, you might pretend like you are dealing, sorting, cards. Predicting might be represented by thoughtfully scratching your head. Casual gestures can vary from teacher to teacher; memory gestures should be the same for every WBT teacher in a school. Casual and memory gestures are powerfully communicated by Mirror Words.

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As a strategy, Mirror Words is so powerful that you’ll use it often. Keep the technique fresh by occasionally using one or more of the following 10 variations. 


1. Giant Mirror Words! (Your kids respond, “Giant Mirror Words” and imitate your gestures. The same pattern is used in the rest of the variations.)

2. Tiny Mirror Words!

3. Rabbit Fast Mirror Words!

4. Turtle Slow Mirror Words!

5. Mirror The Words Right Now!

6. Mirror Wacky Words!

7. Right Hand Mirror Words!

8. Left Hand Mirror Words!

9. Calm and Quiet Mirror Words

10. Arms Way Out Wide Mirror Words!