Kernel Factsheet — Antecedent Kernel

Nonverbal Transition Cues


  • Education
  • Workplace
  • Community
  • Family

Developmental Phases

  • Infancy and Toddlerhood
  • Early Childhood
  • Childhood
  • Early Adolescence
  • Adolescence
  • Emerging Adulthood



Impacted Behaviors

+ Increased academic engagement
+ More polite responses
+ Less disruptive, disorganized, or hostile behavior
+ Immediate reduction in transition time
+ More engaged or productive behavior
Reduced disruptive behavior
Reduced trauma response in traumatized persons
Less ignoring
Less aggression
Reduce peer aggression and bullying

How To Do It

Anyone exposed to trauma or high stress—which is a lot of adults and children in many schools—overreact to angry faces and voices. In schools, adults quite often display angry faces and/or voices when they tell students to make transitions, such as putting something down, listening to an instruction, or beginning a new task. These transitions occur easily 50 times a day in a school or even in one single classroom.

If students do not look at the adult’s mouth when hearing an instruction, they are likely to follow the instruction only about 20% of the time—mostly because the brain will not ‘hear” the instruction, even though the teacher said it. Thus, teachers begin to raise their voices. This then adds to any fear, freezing, or aggression in some students—although the adults may sense that the child finally heard them because they raised their voices.

Using a harmonica for an audio cue and raising your hand with a peace sign or feather, praising youth for looking at you, and then giving the instruction will reduce transition time dramatically. Typically, teachers report that transitions take 5 to 10 seconds instead of 2 to 5 minutes. This saves nearly two to four weeks of time for teaching and learning, and also reduces upset. This evidence-based kernel comes from the practical literature of teaching and some applied research literature, with an understanding of the cognitive processes of children and adults affected by trauma.

Measuring Change

You will see reduced disruptive behavior and decreased time in transitions.

Extended Recipe

The strategy is simple: each time you must interrupt students to give a new instruction, use a harmonica along with a hand signal. Keep smiling and praise those who stop and look at you quickly. Avoid displaying hard looks or nasty faces. Here is the recipe for this evidence-based kernel:

  • Buy a harmonica. They are not expensive (about $6.00). Do not use the cheap plastic ones, as they make a terrible sound and break easily.

  • Put a lanyard on it for ease of use.

  • Practice using it to discover the sound that is pleasant to you.

  • Teach students how to respond to the sound and to your visual cue (peace sign or feather).

  • Use this kernel every hour for most transitions.

  • Remember to give instructions ONLY after students are looking at your mouth and don’t turn your back unless you want students NOT to follow through.

  • Praise quick compliance and follow through.

Performance and Impact

Reduces problem behaviors, dawdling; and increases time on task or engaged learning.