Exercises to Develop the Communication Skills of Your Students

Being good at communicating has to be one of the most useful skills out there. Without it, you’re doomed to work on projects, tasks, and jobs alone (or fail at working on them together). With them, you can do nearly anything. For that reason, as a teacher, you want to do whatever is in your power to help your students learn how to be better communicators. For the classroom might well be one of the best places to pick up such skills.

Of course, some exercises are going to be better than others. Here we’re going to explore some of the better ones out there so that you don’t waste your time pursuing strategies that don’t actually work and instead spend your time on ones that do.

Sound good? Then let’s get straight to it. After all, one of the first important lessons about communication is that words spent on nothing are words not spent well.

Teach them mindfulness

To be a good communicator you need to have some emotional intelligence, as this isn’t just vital for helping you understand your own emotions but also understand those of the other party. And one of the best ways to give people better emotional intelligence is to teach them to be more mindful.

But what is mindfulness? According to dictionary.com, it’s a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts feeling and sensations but not judging them. In other words, it’s about being in the moment.

There are many ways that people can become more mindful. Meditation is a famous strategy, though a lot of students will find this hard to do (And a little ridiculous besides). For that reason, just getting people to spend some time on being in the present by experiencing the actual space that they’re in, what’s going on and what that means will often work well.

You can simply talk them through it. Get them to feel certain sensations, like the sun on their face or the clothes on their backs. Also, get them to focus on being in the present, not just during the exercise but during conversations as well. This will let them become active listeners, where they don’t just listen while they wait for their turn to talk, but actively try to understand the position that the other person has taken.

Have them write dialogue

The big advantage of writing out dialogues is that it forces your students to take on the roles of different people and try to understand what position they take.

The exercise itself is quite straightforward. Just have your students sit down and write out the conversation between two characters. If your students are younger or less experienced, then initially they might do best deciding on their own characters and their own conversations. As they get a bit more experience you can decide who is talking and what they’re talking about.

When you get into the more structured exercise, then it’s possible for your students to learn from each other by reading out the different dialogues that have been written. You can even take the best ones and have people read them out. In this way, you’ll be able to discuss why this one worked well and people can come up with interesting continuations or variations around the same theme. This will allow them to experiment with different outcomes as well as different results. You can even have in depth discussions about why a certain person might have said a certain thing.

Dialogues in movies

Another great exercise is to take realistic dialogues either from online videos or from movies and then having your students watch them. The goal here is not just to entertain them and occupy their attention. Instead, they’re supposed to actively analyze the dialogue.

So have them watch the dialogue several times and consider:

  • body language
  • eye contact
  • summarizing
  • paraphrasing
  • responding

Then you can discuss afterward as a class what they did and why it worked. Note that with teenagers, you can also look at videos where adults flirt (though not outrageously so). Though they’ll laugh and giggle, they’ll still find the information incredibly useful and pay attention. That means that you can sneak other information into it, like the points I mentioned above.

Teach them critical thinking

The ability to think critically is useful in whatever your students are doing, be it in class, in life or in conversation. For that matter, finding teachable moments to help them get better at critical thinking is always a good idea. So make sure that you teach it to them whatever they’re doing, be it learning how to communicate or learning how to write a scholarship essay https://www.trustmypaper.com/.

There are many ways to teach critical thinking. A good place to start is to ask the class a question and then have them debate it as a group to figure out what the answer. Some example questions are ‘what is necessary to make a country?’ or ‘What is anger?’

Students should then sit together and discuss together what they think the answer is. This is both a great opportunity for them to learn what it means to think critically, as well as learn how to communicate clearly with each other.

Of course, you should always be on hand to help and guide the students with new ideas if they get stuck.

Also, it is important to explain that critical thinking is not the same thing as being negative. Everybody can be negative and obstructionist. Not everybody is good at seeing the hole in an argument and working out solutions to fix such holes.

Teach them the power of open-ended questions

To actually have a real conversation students need to understand the power of open-ended questions. So a great exercise is to actually show them what those are (as well as their opposite, the yes and no question).

A good initial standing point is:

  • What is an open-ended question?
  • Is this is an open ended question?

Here are a few more examples that you can look at.

From there have them practice both kinds of question on a partner so that they realize why one can lead to conversations and the other probably won’t. A good exercise is to give them a group of closed-ended questions and have them then work to transform them into open-ended questions. You’ll have to figure out some appropriate questions to turn into either open ended questions or instead let people try their own.

You can even turn it into a quick game where students get to try to either find out if a question is open ended or not as quickly as possible. Alternatively, you find some tricky closed or open questions and then having people decide individually whether the question is one or the other.

Extra things to pay attention to

As your students are learning to communicate make sure that you pay attention to these things so that they learn them quickly:

  • Turn taking: A good conversation has turned, with all sides being able to speak and listen. If one person is hogging all the attention, then this rule is being broken. Make sure that they understand this and allow each other to speak. Nobody allows a conversation hog.
  • Affirmative sounds: When somebody is telling something that’s interesting (or even when they’re not) it’s important to make it clear that you want them to continue. Have your students make affirmative like ‘wow’, ‘is that right?’ and ‘huh’ in order to show the other person that they are listening.
  • No negging: It doesn’t matter how lame the other person’s statement is, that’s no reason to tell them they’re stupid or that in other ways tear them down. Teach your students to disagree with each other disrespectfully, through such statements as ‘I don’t think that’s true’ or ‘are you sure?’ This will make it a great deal easier to have a conversation without hurting anybody’s feelings.

Last words

The skill of conversation is something that you can keep learning throughout your life and can enjoy throughout your days. The only way that this is possible, however, is if people actually know how to have a good conversation.

For this reason, make sure that you teach your students this useful skill early and that you teach them well. In this way, they’ll be in a position to work together better, get more out of their relationships outside of school and get more out of life in general. Now, what’s not to love about that?

Content creation doesn’t have to be a pain

I made the point a few posts ago (”The new age for all its electronic wizardy is still writing based“) that, despite the importance of the words on your site, many people think they can stick some copy and content in at the last minute. And this is backed up by the experience of Flyte web development company — “Content Creation is Painful” — who describe their experience with customers who decide to write their own copy as follows:

Before the job starts:

“I’m just going to take the content from the current site.”

“This stuff is going to write itself.”

“I expect to knock it out over the weekend. After all, this is my business.”

After the job ends:

“That took twice as long as I thought it would.”

“That reminded me of sitting in the dentist’s chair during the Novocaine shortage of ‘94.”

“You Web monkey bastards! You told me writing content was easy!”

No matter how much you love your job, no matter how passionate you are about what you do, writing content is going to be much more work than you think.

It’s funny because it’s true.

Ease the pain.

(Shameless plug alert.)

Hire a writer.

Start a website for your “bricks and mortar” business

I’m over in Scotland right now — Edinburgh to be exact (back to Vancouver on the 27th) — and it’s clear that Internet usage in the UK is on the up, mainly down to the spread of broadband over the last year or so. There are various stats that have been released showing huge Internet usage growth in the UK, but even just from driving around the city I can see the signs — literally. Compared to my last visit a year ago there are far more URLs on the storefronts of small retailers. No matter where in the world your “bricks and mortar” business is, having even a small Web presence with a memorable URL allows passing traffic to take a note of it and check it out later.

Real life versus the Internet

Ok, the Web’s a convenient and limitless resource and, used effectively, a great communications and business tool. And we’re all wired up to the eyeballs these days. But rearrange the letters in “wired” and you get “weird,” which nicely sums up a lot of the rest of the Internet. And there’s no better, or funnier, representation of this than “Real Life Versus the Internet”

Adding thumbnail previews to your links is a Snap

Here’s another tool that’s worth checking out. Snap offers a free service that lets your visitors preview a site before clicking through to it via a link on your page.

Hover over the Snap link above or any other on this blog and you’ll see what I mean. It makes for a nice user experience, and saves people clicking through to pages they’ve already visited or might not want to visit.

It’s easy to add to your site, especially for a non-techy person like me. You just paste a small snippet of code into your template and you can choose to use it with all links or only ones you specify.

As an aside, the importance of a clean homepage, ideally with a compelling headline, is nicely illustrated when you view the thumbnail preview pages using Snap. Think about which ones make you want to click through and which ones fail to grab your attention. It’s also handy as a quick way to check for broken links on your site. Just hover over a link and, if it’s broken, you’ll see an error page instead of the expected page in the preview.

Global stats for Internet usage

There’s a good article on the BBC site — “How to make the web go worldwide” — showing a breakdown of Internet usage worldwide. According to the stats from Internet World Stats, South Korea is the most connected nation with 70% of homes having a high-speed broadband connection. The figure for Africa, on the other hand, is just 0.1%, leaving experts worried that the continent is being left far behind in terms of global Internet expansion.

There are some good links to other articles in the sidebar of this story.

Hello, G’day, Howdy — what English do you speak?

It’s going to be interesting to see how the growth of the Internet worldwide affects what’s considered “standard” English in the long-term.

Of course, standard English is different according to whether you’re in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia… and so on. So, as the Web has developed most rapidly in the US, is US-English going to become the standard — at least in online communications?

Or will there be a new language called Internet-English that’s a hybrid of the various versions? Inter-English anyone?

This came to mind after reading a post on a new blog called Word Wise — Comma Comma Comma Comma Comma Chameleon. The author muses on the usage of the “serial comma”, also known as the “Oxford comma” (in other words, “planes, trains, and automobiles”) — usage that differs according to whether you’re in the North America or the UK, etc, as well as according to which style guide, or even newspaper, you read.

I’m from the UK, now living in Canada and writing for any English-language audience when it comes to online communications. So whether I use “-ize” or “-ise”, “color” or “colour”, and so on depends on the main audience the client wants to target. If it’s a universal audience, it normally comes down to where the company is based.

And, of course, there are also search engine optimisation (or optimization) considerations. For example, if you’re a UK-based SEO company targeting a UK client-base, using “search engine optimisation” will get you UK hits. UK search companies like Bigmouthmedia and others get round this by using title tags like “Search engine optimisation (optimization)”.

Google “search engine optimisation” and “search engine optimization” and see what comes up.

And the differences don’t end with spelling. Punctuation and individual words and phrasing can be very different.

For example, before working in North America, I’d always placed punctuation outside the quotation marks, like this, “Punctuation outside”. (Unless it was part of the quote). Now I have to do this, “Punctuation inside.”

This Wikipedia entry has more common differences: American and British English differences.

To complicate matters, the fact that I’m Scottish (and so have to suppress my own regional language quirks) means I’ll sometimes unknowingly throw in the odd word that flumoxes any editors I’m working with. Recently I included the word “outwith” — admittedly not a word I use a lot — in a regular eBay business newsletter I write. The context was something like this, “Most eBay members now come from outwith the US” (meaning from outside the US).

It turned out that not only is “outwith” peculiar to the UK, it’s actually only really used in Scotland. I even checked on the Scottish Office (government) site, and there it is in the, not very inspiring, report headline, “Children educated outwith school and pupil projections”.

So there you go, you learn something new every day — never use the word “outwith” outwith Scotland.

In terms of writing for different clients and audiences, it’s never been a problem (apart from maybe with the word, “outwith”), and — as the Internet rapidly expands outwith North America (sorry) — I actually find it an advantage that I’m aware of these considerations, and can build them into project-scope discussions.

Top 5 must-read books on writing

I went to see Billy Connolly (still as funny as ever) the other night. One of the Big Yin’s best lines was…

“If you go into a house and they only have one book, get the *bleep* out of that house!”

Really I just wanted an excuse to get that line in, but it did get me thinking — if I had to choose one writing book to keep out of the ones on my shelf, which would it be?

I’d have to choose On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

Others making up a top 5 would be:

– Networds by Nick Usborne
– On Writing by Stephen King (yes, the Stephen King)
– The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White
– The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sellsby Robert W. Bly

I would say all are required reading for anyone who wants to improve their writing.

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year is… You

Not so long ago, if you wanted to have your say on a subject, you wrote a letter to the editor, called a radio phone-in show or stood on a box on a street corner and shouted at passers-by. If you were really determined, you started a pirate radio station or published a fanzine. It’s easier now, as Time Magazine acknowledges with 2007’s Person of the Year award going to… “You.”

Cue every content-generating user out there linking to Time’s website. Finger on the pulse, or cunning traffic-generating strategy, asks ProBlogger.

The most useful websites on the Internet

The Guardian has published a list of their most useful websites of 2006 — The new 100 most useful sites.

It’s interesting to compare this list to their previous one in 2004 — Cream of the crop: 100 most useful websites.

They rightly point out (taking the UK-view, as a British newspaper):

“In 2004, the internet was a different place: there was, for example, no YouTube, and most Britons online didn’t have broadband. That’s changed dramatically: now, more than 75% of users have broadband, and the arrival of Web 2.0 has brought sites where the interaction is as fast as if it were on your machine.”