Activities to Improve Your Students’ Communication Skills
Employers often bemoan that prospective workers are leaving our school systems without the skills they will need to succeed. Sometimes, those skills are concrete, like coding, but most of the time, these employers want a base of applicants strong in soft skills, particularly communication. These companies reason that they are prepared to train workers in “their way” of doing specific tasks, but training employees in expressing their views and listening to the views of others is much more difficult.
Students can start learning marketable communication skills early and can continue to improve throughout school. Here are some activities to give your students extra practice in communication.
Guide for the blindfolded
Arrange your classroom in a way that is unfamiliar to the students, making sure that it is safe to get around. Have students pair up. One will wear a blindfold while the other is to function as the “eyes” and stand in a designated space. The goal is for the eyes to guide the blindfolded partner through the classroom through a specific path using only words. The fewer guidelines you provide, the more creative the students’ methods will be.
If you are nervous about students bumping into desks or chairs, or don't feel like rearranging your classroom, you can also adapt this activity into a more stationary one. Instead of having one student guide another through the classroom, have them direct their blindfolded partner to drawing a simple picture, like of a house or a dog. The trick is that only the "eyes" can know what the drawing is supposed to be of, and can only give simple directions ("draw a circle, draw a horizontal line, etc.). You'll end up with some creative interpretations for sure!
Again, students work in pairs and sit back-to-back. One describes a nonsensical drawing or diagram that is not easily replicated while the other student makes his or her best attempt at recreating the partner’s directions. Another variation is for the partners to try to fold a piece of paper in the same way without looking. The team whose pieces of paper are the closest match wins.
Active listening through read-alouds
Even students in high school like to be told stories orally, even if they have access to the text themselves. They especially like it if there is no danger of them being called on to read aloud themselves. Whenever possible, try using an audiobook or other recording to guide any in-class reading, while students use a graphic organizer to take notes. You should also pause regularly for open-ended discussion.
Along the same lines, activate the subtitles when watching a video. The combination of visual and audio communication increases understanding and retention.
Play the quiet game
Nonverbal communication is just as important, and it’s easy to provide students with practice in following nonverbal cues: just don’t speak. At the start of a class period, use signals to let students know that the day will be spent using nonverbal communication, then continue to use signals throughout class when direction is required. Make it known that you expect them to do the same. Everyone will be amazed at how quickly a class “language” built on signals and nonverbal cues begins to form.
If you don't feel like teaching a whole lesson without speaking, you can also try having your students group up and handing them something like a section of the days lesson or a short story or scene, and instructing them to review the material carefully as a group. Then, have each group give a short presentation-without speaking-on what they learned. Can the rest of the class understand what they are trying to communicate?
Looking for more ways to prepare your students for life outside of school? Check out these five critical soft skills for college readiness!
This post was originally published December 2018 and has been updated.