EGU General Assembly 2023
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the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Understanding processes at plate boundaries with the help of gestures. An experimental study about the role of gestures in teaching geoscience.

Dominik Conrad
Dominik Conrad
  • University of Education Ludwigsburg, Social Science, Geography, Germany (

Teaching geoscience phenomena often involves the use, albeit unconscious, of speech-accompanying gestures (van Boening / Riggs, 2020). Even though speech-accompanying metaphorical gestures are considered to have great potential in teaching situations (Herrera & Riggs, 2013), little attention has been paid to the role of gestures in learning geoscientific processes to date. The presented study addresses the question, whether the teacher's use of metaphorical gestures when explaining the processes at destructive and constructive plate boundaries can help learners to develop adequate scientific conceptions.  In an experimental study, 62 students from eight different classes in two high schools (grades 7-9) watch a movie. In this movie a teacher explains the processes at destructive and constructive plate boundaries, one time (group 1, n= 30) without using metaphorical gestures, one time (group 2, n=32) by using metaphorical gestures. Students are asked about their conceptions of divergent and convergent plate boundaries using semi-structured interviews before as well as after this intervention. The interviews are analyzed using a combination of systematic metaphor analysis (Schmitt, 2010) and gesture analysis (Herrera & Riggs, 2013; Müller, 1998). This was followed by a quantitative analysis with SPSS. The analysis showed highly significant differences between the groups. After the intervention, 33% of the group 1 activated a suitable source domain when explaining divergent plate boundaries, while 78.1 % of the group 2 did so (χ² (1, n = 62) = 12.636, p < .001; φ- = .451). When explaining convergent plate boundaries after the intervention, 10% in group 1 activated an appropriate source domain, and 67.78 % in group 2 did so: χ² (1, n = 61) = 21.300, p < .001; φ- = .59). These results suggest, that the use of metaphorical gestures in teaching geoscience processes should be paid more attention. Further research is needed on different variables, for example, on the type of gestures used, but also on the age of the learners.



 van Boening, A. M.  & Riggs, E. M. (2020). Geologic gestures: A new classification for embodied cognition in geology. Journal of Geoscience Education, 68(1), 49-64.

Herrera, J., & Riggs, E. (2013). Relating Gestures and Speech: An Analysis Of Students' Conceptions About Geological Sedimentary Processes. International Journal of Science Education, 35(12), 1979-2003.

 Müller, C. (1998). Redebegleitende Gesten. Kulturgeschichte – Theorie- Sprachvergleich. Berlin: Berlin Verlag.

Schmitt, R. (2010). Metaphernanalyse. In: Mey,G. & Mruck, K. (Eds.), Handbuch Qualitative Forschung in der Psychologie, (S. 676–691). Springer.

How to cite: Conrad, D.: Understanding processes at plate boundaries with the help of gestures. An experimental study about the role of gestures in teaching geoscience., EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-1103,, 2023.