8 Tips to Teach Effective Communication Skills

Practice these methods to keep the art of conversation alive!

Only a teacher can truly know the joy of walking into a classroom and seeing a group of cherubic faces smiling up at you, eager to learn, hanging on your every word, and never interrupting.

Yeah, right. If you’re a teacher, you know this Utopia is far from reality.
The truth is that listening and speaking are skills that don’t always come naturally to kids.

Why do Kids Struggle with Effective Communication?

There are many factors. For example, look around at a group of teens, or even upper elementary aged students, and you’ll usually see them on their phones. Sometimes they are, astoundingly, texting their friends that are in the same room! They are more comfortable texting and using technology than speaking face to face. According to the New York Times1

children between the ages of 8 and 10 years spend 8 hours a day on screens.

This figure goes up to 11 hours for older students, so it’s really no surprise our students’ communication skills are lacking

Sometimes kids have few adult role models to show them how to be good listeners and have productive, healthy conversations. Many students have speech or other communication disorders that may impede their ability to speak and listen well.  As teachers, we have an excellent opportunity to teach these skills to our students!

How to Foster Students’ Communication Skills

How can you incorporate teaching, speaking, and listening while still having time to get in everything else you have to teach? Read on for some great tips to help your students become fabulous communicators!

Teach Kids Empathy
When you are teaching students to communicate with others, it’s essential for them to begin to develop empathy and a sense of what the other person is thinking and feeling. For some students, we must teach this explicitly. When students start to see that their viewpoint isn’t the only one, they become much better listeners, and they tend to speak more respectfully to others.

Teach Conversation Skills
Explicitly teach how to have a good conversation. All the activities in the world won’t help your students develop the skills they don’t have. It is important to model for them how to have a productive conversation. Puppets can be an excellent tool, as can role-playing. But the preferred method is through VideoModeling, where professional actors model examples and non-examples of communication skills. Many of our programs that use this research-based VideoModeling method have been proven effective!

Establish Listening and Speaking Procedures
Establish listening and speaking procedures and post them throughout the classroom. Dr. Allen Mendler of Edutopia suggests

“identify procedures for having a conversation that includes appropriate non-verbal behavior. For example, you might teach a strategy like S.L.A.N.T. (Sit up straight. Listen. Answer and ask questions. Nod to show interest. Track the speaker.)”2

These behaviors will prove to be significant later in life when students will need to make good first impressions with employers!

Teach Respectful Vocabulary
Teach respectful alternatives for students to use in heated conversations. Teach students that being COLD and being passive, or being HOT and blowing up, often just makes matters worse. The best solution is just to be cool. For example, telling your friend, ‘you’re stupid’ may have a more inflammatory effect than ‘I disagree with you.’ While it seems obvious to adults, it may be less obvious to children.  

Teach the Power of Pausing
Teach students to pause, think and ask questions. This will help them both to begin to see another’s viewpoint and slow them down a bit to listen more effectively. Teach them questions such as ‘So, do you mean?’ or ‘Why?’

Practice Speaking and Listening in Natural Settings
While speaking and listening are vital in the classroom, they are useful in all areas of students’ lives. Start by having students talk about their interests, then role play situations they might encounter, such as an argument with a friend or how to respectfully disagree with someone in a position of authority.

Encourage Introspection
Students can begin to learn where their feelings and thoughts come from. It is a skill that may take some work, but understanding themselves is just as important in communication as understanding those around them.

Turn Taking
One of the most basic building blocks of a good conversation is learning to take turns.  Mendler suggests: “Use an object, such as a talking stick as a signal for turn-taking. Teach your students that when they have the object, it is their turn to talk or pass while others are expected to listen.” It is a good idea to involve students in other activities that practice the skill of turn-taking, such as board games.

Teachers, You Have the Power

Unfortunately, students don’t instinctively know how to have a good conversation. There are many barriers to communicating effectively, but communication is a skill that can be taught. So get teaching!


Citations

1. Brody, Jane E. “Screen Addiction is Taking a Toll on Children.” The New York Times, 6 July 2015, www.well.blogs.ntyimes/2015/07/06/screen-addiction-is-taking-a-toll-on-children/.

2. Mendler, Dr. Allen. “Teaching Your Students How to Have a Conversation.” Edutopia, 5 Nov. 2013, www.edutopia.org/blog/teaching-your-students-conversation-allen-mendler.


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