Ways to Teach Communication Skills in the Classroom

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Want More Science of Reading? Check out our seven-part Science of Reading webinar series. Download sessions here to explore how the brain learns to read and get tips for effective, researched-based classroom instruction.

Find out how a student’s reading development is strongly related to their speaking, listening, and writing skills. Then, discover helpful strategies for teaching these communication skills in the classroom. Plus, get five free writing activities for your classroom.

Why are Communication Skills Important for Early Reading?

Students raising hands to take part in class discussionCommunication skills encompass the ability to speak, listen, and write effectively in order to share information and ideas with others.[1] “Communication… addresses the speaking, listening, and writing domains of language,” said Waterford Director of Curriculum Julie Christensen in a recent webinar on teaching communication skills in the classroom, “the fourth domain being reading.”

Together, these skills make up the four domains of language. Listening and reading are the receptive domains that help us receive information. Speaking and writing are the expressive or productive domains that help us produce or convey information.

What role do communication skills play in your students’ reading development? Listening, speaking, and writing skills support the development of crucial reading skills. Early speaking and listening skills are a good predictor of a student’s reading comprehension abilities later on.[3,4] In addition, the National Early Literacy Panel reports that a young child’s ability to write their name and to write individual letters upon request is an indicator of future reading success.[3]

The connections work in the other direction as well. As students learn to read in the classroom, their verbal language skills tend to improve, too.[5] And better readers tend to be better writers.

Strategies for Teaching Communication Skills

Modeling good communication skills is a great way to help your students learn them for themselves. After all, communication is central to teaching—whether you’re getting to know your class at the beginning of the school year, explaining a complex concept, or holding a parent-teacher conference.[6] As you teach content area skills, make a point to model and also explicitly teach communication skills like how to engage in a class discussion or respond to a question.[7]

As you plan, be sure to integrate instruction for literacy and content areas, which will provide lots of opportunity for students to build their skills in all four domains of language. As your students are learning about a topic, be sure they are reading, writing, and conversing about it.

Journaling is an excellent way to foster communication skills. Through journal entries, students learn to reflect and express themselves through writing. These skills transfer to the ability to express ideas verbally and to understand more complex language they encounter through reading and listening.

Read alouds can be useful for teaching communication skills to elementary students. In particular, reading books aloud can teach students intonation and expression as well as fluent speech, according to Scholastic staff writer Bekki Lidner.[8] Encourage families to read aloud both picture and chapter books at home, too. This will allow children to see communication skills exhibited by a variety of people.

Finally, setting up practice conversations can help students hone their own communication skills. This can be done in pairs, small groups, or with the whole classroom. Give your students a prompt and tie it to something you are learning in class. Listening to understand and speaking to be understood are lifelong communication skills.

5 Writing Communication Activities for the Classroom

These five free writing activities from Waterford.org will help students build their communication skills. Each one is available to download in English and Spanish.

1. Sentence starters (Spanish: Inicio de oraciones): Using this sentence starter writing activity, students can practice writing simple sentences to share their ideas.

Elementary school students taking a test2. Word tree (Spanish: Árbol de palabras): Keep track of vocabulary words in class with this printable word tree worksheet. Then encourage students to use new words they learn in a sentence once a day.

3. Sentence builder activity (Spanish: Constructores de oraciones): With this downloadable activity, students can practice structuring and writing a sentence.

4. Name writing practice (Spanish: Escritura de nombre): This worksheet helps early elementary students practice writing their name.

5. Journal page (Spanish: Página de diario): Pair this printable journal page with this list of writing prompts for kids to encourage students to reflect while they practice their writing skills.

Sources:

1. Christensen, J., Persch, K., & Esser, L. Communication: The Four Domains of Language. Webinar from Waterford.org. February 22, 2022.

2. Christensen, J. The Science of Reading: From Research to Instruction. Waterford.org, April 2021.

3. National Institute for Literacy. Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel 2008. https://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/NELPReport09.pdf

4. Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. 1995. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.

5. Seidenberg, M.S. The Science of Reading and Its Educational Implications. Language Learning Development, August 2014, 9(4), pp. 331-360.

6. National University Staff. Essential Soft Skills for Teachers. https://www.nu.edu/resources/essential-soft-skills-for-teachers/.

7. Stott, A. Teaching Communication Skills. Edutopia. December 21, 2018. https://www.edutopia.org/article/teaching-communication-skills

8. Lindner, B. 7 Ways to Develop Early Communication Skills in Young Learners. Scholastic Parents. March 2, 2014. https://www.scholastic.com/parents/school-success/learning-toolkit-blog/7-ways-to-develop-early-communication-skills-young.html.

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