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.
There are many factors. For example, look around at a group of teens 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 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’re teaching students to communicate, it’s essential for them 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 better listeners, and tend to speak more respectfully to others.
Teach Conversation Skills
Explicitly teach how to have good conversations. All the activities in the world won’t help students develop skills they don’t have. It’s important to model 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
Develop and post these 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 are crucial later when students will need to make good first impressions with employers!
Teach Respectful Vocabulary
Teach respectful alternatives for heated conversations. Remind students that being COLD (passive), or being HOT (blowing up), often makes matters worse. The best solution is to be cool. For example, telling someone, ‘you’re stupid’ may have a more inflammatory effect than ‘I disagree with you.’ While it’s obvious to adults, it may be less obvious to children.
As Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.