How well do your students communicate?

A recent survey found that communication skills are both the most sought after skills in new hires as well as the hardest to find. Of course, for some, this points to the importance of the liberal arts education over fields like business and finance. Still, for K-12 educators, the lesson learned here is that we have to find ways to facilitate better communication skills in our students, no matter the discipline.

Effective communicators get jobs. Period. The same skills also allow students to thrive in their lives after high school, particularly in higher education and not just in the workforce. Remember all those papers and presentations you had to complete while in college? A lot can be said for developing effective communication skills in regards to future success.

Now the trick is to identify when or where these skills can be developed. If one teaches reading and writing, communication skills are a natural fit, but other disciplines can be challenging to communicate. Consider the following times when communication can be developed:

  • Use cooperative learning strategies to engage all students in classroom discussion. Such strategies as Think-Pair-Share, Three-Step Interview, or Numbered Heads Together all work well for encouraging discussion. [Link]
  • Journals and blogs that collect student thinking before, during, and after projects not only help them put their ideas into writing, but peer and teacher comments along with revisiting said writing can promote crafting one’s ideas into coherent ideas.
  • Many teachers point to the importance of vocabulary in every subject area. However, we miss an opportunity to use a constructivist approach in teaching word meanings. Why not allow students to identify and define phenomena for themselves? Then teachers can simply give them the formal terminology to pair with their created meanings.
  • Reflection in the form of exit tickets allows students to not only compartmentalize all the new knowledge they’ve encountered, but it also allows the teacher to conduct some formative assessment.
  • Peer feedback can be a powerful communication practice. Students can often speak more eloquently about a peer’s work than they can their own. The resulting discussion can help both those providing feedback as well as those receiving it with developing how they talk about learning. Some helpful strategies can be found here.
  • Provide question stems to spur classroom discussion. Sometimes, students don’t ask good questions of each other because they just don’t know how to begin or what they do know is very limited. Why not provide them with some question stems to get them started? Start with this helpful list of stems organized in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Still, even with these practices in place, it is important to remember that students need to be taught how to communicate. The above ideas only provide opportunities for practice and development. They only work if students know the best ways to communicate, avoiding bad habits along the way. A few ways in which we can teach students to better communicate follow:

  • Model not only how you would communicate your ideas but include your thinking. Sharing our metacognition with students helps to show them how and why we think the way we do.
  • Practice communicating their thoughts and ideas with them. Maybe start with rewording or inserting vocabulary into their explanations. Then move on to having them restate or even repeat ideas in a clearer format.
  • Tons of feedback should be given. Feedback is as simple as praising a student for expressing an idea clearly to suggesting how their message might be interpreted by others. When there isn’t time to respond to every idea communicated by your students, be sure to build in lots of peer feedback opportunities.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice. Have students explain everything either verbally or in written form. If this means they do half as many math problems, that’s okay. The benefits of reflecting and explaining their thinking at every step of the way helps make their work time more effective and focused on learning instead of memorizing.

If there’s one thing I can say for teachers, it’s that they are master communicators. They find all sorts of ways to deliver content to their students to help them understand and grow. The challenge now is to pass those gifts on to our students so that they can succeed when we’re not there to help them.

How important is communication in your classroom? What other ways can you help students develop communication skills? Which software features and online apps best help develop communication skills in students?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

HD_Links: Graphic Novels or Comic Books – Whatever you call them they are WRITING!

Saturday morning cartoons on TV, the newest X-Men comic book, or even the Sunday morning comics in the newspaper can captivate kids and adults alike?  Allowing students to create authentic products like these may engage some more than simply asking them to write a story.

These tools focus on writing and illustrating comics/cartoons. These resources allow students to create their own comic strips or custom animations to be integrated into writing projects across the curriculum.

What kinds of projects using these tools might engage your students?

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read more at her blog Higgins Helpful Hints Blog.

HD_Links: Lucky 7 Online Writing Tools

It's time to write

Here are seven online tools and resources for helping your students in generating their best creative work.

  • Remember “choose your own adventure” books when you were growing up? Well, now there’s a collaborative writing project called One Million Monkeys Typing where you can help write such adventures. Follow the routes already set by previous writers or add your own twist.
  • Another collaborative writing project is FoldingStory where contributors are limited to 120 word “folds” in order to complete a narrative.
  • Remember Magnetic Poetry? Still have those magnetic tiles with a variety of words allowing you to create poetry on your refrigerator? Now, there’s an online version for your students to write their own poetry. Check out Magnetic Poetry’s Kids’ Poetry Page and see for yourself.
  • Lightning Bug provides young writers a writing partner when they need some feedback or ideas in writing a story. This could be an excellent tool for those students who find themselves out of school and writing workshop for an extended period.
  • Besides the need for writing partners, young writers also need graphic organizers. Writing Fun by Jenny Eather is your one stop for an interactive graphic aid resource.
  • Games and writing prompts that can spark creative writing can be found at Language Is a Virus.
  • Sometimes, the best way to make the dialogue in creative writing seem more authentic is to add a flavor of a local dialect. “The Dialectizer” is such a tool. Enter a URL or selection of text and choose a generalized dialect to transform dialogue into a conversation that looks the way you want it to sound.

What are some online tools and resources you use to help your students with their writing?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. He wants to give a big H/T to PD4ETS graduate Diane McCormack, a tech facilitator for Affton Schools, for pointing out these and many other great online resources.