Excellent communication skills are necessary to succeed in any field. Whether you are a mentor, supervisor, career counselor, trainer or otherwise, teaching these skills to others provides them with a strong foundation to achieve future career goals. While learning these skills takes time, best practices can help students quickly learn and apply them on the job. With improved communication skills, students will have the confidence and knowledge to not only excel in the workplace but also to seek out jobs and perform well in interviews. In this article, we will provide proven methods for effectively teaching these skills.
What are communication skills?
Communication skills are the abilities you use to give and receive different kinds of information. These skills are essential when working with others, managing people and overseeing projects. Examples include volume, clarity, empathy, respect and understanding nonverbal cues. You use these skills to communicate ideas, feelings, tasks and events.
Types of Communication
- Use a strong, confident speaking voice.
- Use active listening.
- Avoid filler words.
- Avoid industry jargon when appropriate.
- Notice how your emotions feel physically.
- Be intentional about your nonverbal communications.
- Mimic nonverbal communications you find effective.
- Ask others before including visuals.
- Consider your audience.
- Only use visuals if they add value.
- Make them clear and easy to understand.
- Strive for simplicity.
- Don’t rely on tone.
- Take time to review your written communications.
- Keep a file of writing you find effective or enjoyable.
How to teach communication skills
You can learn and practice communication skills. Students benefit from methods that give them hands-on practice, clear directions and the opportunity to reflect. Here are some of the best ways to teach these skills with several examples.
- Group games
- Asking questions
- Record and reflect
Role-playing is a classic method for teaching communication skills. To use this technique, students act out skills after discussing them. For example, appropriate posture or body language.
Role-playing should always focus on full group participation and mutual respect. Be sure to talk to students about how to be a respectful audience member, and allow plenty of time for daily role-playing to help students get comfortable. Students will need to have patience and open-mindedness, as well as a positive rapport with each other. If you foster these skills first, role-playing can be a great way to learn communication abilities quickly.
- Whenever you teach a new skill, use role-playing to check that students fully understand the information.
- Act out a skill for students. Then have them guess which skill you modeled.
- Use specific scenarios students experience on a day-to-day basis in an office setting.
- Have the students discuss what went well and what went wrong after each role-play. Ask them what they would have done differently to improve the situation.
- In a role-playing scenario, two students act out examples of both excellent and ineffective communication during a mock project disagreement. Afterward, the group takes two minutes to write down the effects of each communication style and shares with the group.
- Write various communication skills on strips of paper. Have students choose at random and then act out the skills. The rest of the group can guess. Choose clear examples such as eye contact, posture, body language, active listening and confidence.
2. Group games
Group games are an interactive, engaging way to teach verbal and nonverbal communication, persuasion, collaboration and relationship-building skills. Through group games, students learn to efficiently pass the information on to others. During games, you should watch closely, make notes and be prepared to share your observations with students so they can improve over time.
Group game examples:
Complete a group project
Working towards a specific goal as a group requires communication. Ask the team to build, design or create something over a set period of time. Provide the group with any necessary materials and observe their interactions as they work. Afterward, ask the group what went well and what they could’ve done differently. Share your observations with positive feedback for each individual on what they did well.
Play the “emotional rollercoaster” game
Divide the group into two teams. Each team gets a set of cards with an emotion written on it, such as “angry,” “delighted” or “sluggish.” A student on the first team acts out an emotion while their teammates guess what it is. Then the other team tries. Set a time limit for guesses, and the team who guesses the most by the end is the winner. This game will help students become more aware of the expressions and body language signals they use to express emotions. It will also spark conversations about non-verbal signals. Be sure to leave time for post-game discussion.
Lead a team member through an obstacle course
Divide the group into teams of two and put a blindfold on one member of each team. Then, have them stand at the start of the course. The second member guides their partner through the course using only verbal directions. Let both the blindfolded and non-blindfolded members share their experiences, then ask them to swap roles and try the course again.
A carefully compiled collection of film and TV clips is a great teaching tool. You can pause, discuss and replay clips. Video clips also make for great take-home work. Students can watch as many times as they like, write responses and share during the next class.
You can look for examples of:
- Characters who learn how to handle crises using clear, concise communication
- Non-verbal communication skills
- How characters process and communicate complex emotions
- Ways to use multiple communication skills to solve problems
- Examples of situations that went wrong as a result of poor communication
Learning about interpersonal and communication skills often necessitates time for reflection and introspection. When students are learning about communication, especially those related to social and emotional health, provide ample time for structured self-analysis. Give students prompts to guide them as they contemplate. For example, ask them to think about communication methods that have worked well for them during difficult situations in the past.
Here are several additional introspection exercises you might consider:
- Stream of consciousness
One of the most basic and helpful communication skills students can learn is turn-talking. During a turn-talking lesson, students will learn the difference between interrupting and interjecting. This is a critical skill people need to learn for negotiation, conflict resolution and idea-sharing. Students should also learn how to overlap in conversation cooperatively rather than competitively.
Turn-talking methods include:
- Use a talking stick or other talking object in your classroom. This sets turn-talking as a standard on the very first day of class.
- Introduce pause-fillers. Make a poster with helpful pause-fillers like, “Let me see,” “Let me think” and “What I mean is,” to help keep the conversation going.
- Suggest opinion phrases. These can help students invite others to speak. A poster of opinion phrases might include “What do you think?” and “Do you like that idea?”
6. Asking questions
Productive conversations are created by asking and answering thoughtful questions. Asking open-ended questions can help move projects forward, encourage new ideas, solve complex problems and delegate tasks. However, learning how to ask those questions is a skill. Take time to teach students about open-ended questions and be sure to provide plenty of examples. You might devote an entire class unit to a lesson on questions, using role-play activities to help guide the discussion.
You can start by conversing with one student in front of the class. Have students keep track of how many words their peer uses in response to your questions. Alternate closed and open questions. Your first question might be, “Did you like the movie?” Follow that up with a question like, “What did you like best about the movie?” Ask alternating questions for a few minutes. Then, get together with the class to discuss their findings. Have them determine which questions prompted longer, more interesting answers and which inspired discussion. Then have students practice asking open-ended questions in pairs or groups.
7. Record and reflect
Watching yourself is an effective way to learn communication skills. If you have the time and resources, ask students to record themselves having a conversation with someone else or in front of a mirror. Then, they should watch the recording and observe their verbal and nonverbal communication. Finally, they should take time to reflect on what they did well and what they can focus on improving.
Here are several additional examples of record and reflect methods:
- Record a two-person conversation. Have the participants watch the recording while writing down their responses or sharing their observations out loud.
- Have students record a short speech by themselves. Record their speech in front of an entire classroom audience. Compare the two videos.
- Record a video at the beginning of class and another at the end. It can be useful to watch the improvement between the two videos.
- Assign video-watching and reflection as a take-home assignment. This is a helpful alternative to students watching their videos with their peers and may offer the chance for a more in-depth response.