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Our world is in a communication crisis. Kids of all ages are spending astounding amounts of time on their electronic devices and losing their skills in effectively communicating their needs with their voices. Picture the kids you know having no access to Wi-Fi.
There might be a revolt when you start to ask them to communicate with you.
With the availability of alternative sources of social support (Leung, 2007), reaching kids in a one to one setting is increasingly difficult. The skill of self-expression in real life and face to face interaction has far-reaching implications. Improving communication skills in children of all ages today will prove to be beneficial for generations to come. Read on to find out how.
This article contains:
- What are Communication Activities, Exercises, and Games?
- The Importance of Teaching Kids Communication Skills
- 5 Tips on How to Teach Communication Skills to Children
- How to Spot Communication Difficulties in All Ages
- 6 Games and Exercises for Toddlers and Preschoolers in Kindergarten
- A Look at Communication in the Classroom
- 4 Ways Students Can Improve Communication Skills
- 6 Communication Games and Activities for Elementary Students
- 7 Games and Activities for Middle and High School Students
- 5 Communication Games and Activities for College Students
- 5 Nonverbal Communication Activities and Games
- 5 Active Listening Games and Exercises
- 5 Assertive Communication Activities for Teens
- A Take-Home Message
What are Communication Activities, Exercises, and Games?
Activities, exercises, and games to teach children to communicate better, comes in a wide variety of formats. The format of communication is, in most settings, determined by adults. Social norms are decided by adults. The rules of etiquette are decided by adults. It would be revolutionary to teach communication skills in kid terms while including all that is needed for the skill to develop throughout life stages.
The following are effective communication fundamentals (Stanfield, 2017):
- Conversation Skills
- Established listening and speaking procedures
- Respectful vocabulary
- The Power of the Pause
- Practice speaking and listening in natural settings
Any activities, exercises, and games including these fundamentals will improve skills in communication. Interactive games where kids are engaging in communication without the realization of the purpose is sometimes quite helpful in opening them up to the possibility. If kids view these activities as fun and engaging, the more likely they are to actively participate.
The Importance of Teaching Kids Communication Skills
The psychological implications of underdeveloped skills in communication are profound. More effective communication skills result in a higher quality of life. Having the ability to communicate what you need in an effective way will result in higher self-efficacy. With higher self-efficacy, there are lower instances of violence, bullying, and self-destructive behaviors.
Research in the hearing impaired has shown significant impact on feelings of loneliness and depression (Knutson, 1990). The same effect is shown in children who are not severely hearing impaired. We are hard-wired to connect and belong with other humans. When difficulty in basic communication exists, there is a barrier to that fundamental human need, resulting in various emotional and psychological problems.
When a toddler cannot effectively communicate, a tantrum might occur. When a pre-teen child cannot effectively communicate, frustration and acting out might occur. When a teenager cannot effectively communicate, a perfect storm might occur…
Children are in desperate need of the ability to effectively communicate with their peers and with adults. Without learning these skills in childhood, adults end up having to retrain poor communication habits that developed over time.
Effective communication skills equip children with the ability to have their needs met. As children age, their skills need to level up. Their peers begin to play a significant role in how these skills develop. Any parent of a teen is well aware of the profound role that these skills play in every aspect of a teen’s life. Modeling appropriate communication skills in daily life is a great way to show kids how communication counts.
Basic communication skills are needed in early life. Something as basic as eye contact can prove to be a difficult skill for many children. Looking people in the eye is a skill. It takes practice to better understand the importance of eye contact in the development of good manners and social connection.
Teaching kids communication skills gives them the ability to learn in every setting. When they know how to listen with others, they are also developing a deeper understanding of empathy and compassion. When kids communication well, they are more likely to recognize and pursue opportunities.
5 Tips on How to Teach Communication Skills to Children
1. Be the model
It’s the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do” coming to rear its head again. Kids are more likely to do as you do than as you say. Parents who model good communication skills will have children who are better at communicating with others. Modeling appropriate styles of communication give children an outline for how they will learn to show up in conversations as well.
2. Create a framework for communication procedures
Teaching children about how and when to communicate is a foundational skill. Chronic interrupting and volume control are disruptions to communication everywhere. Set boundaries for kids to know when it is appropriate to interject with their opinion. Teach them how to get your attention without inappropriate disruption.
3. Don’t embarrass by correcting in public
Kids are going to make mistakes in communication. Let’s face it, most adults continue making mistakes in communication too. That two-year-old boy calling a stranger fat at the market didn’t mean to hurt her feelings. Berating and admonishing him for it, won’t help him fully understand his error.
Gently correcting errors in communication in private, helps provide children with the opportunity for skills to develop. If a child is embarrassed in public, they will make fewer communication attempts in the future. This impedes the development of more efficient communication skills.
4. Teach empathy
Empathy will pop up as an important topic for children to learn in every aspect of their life. The ability to see someone else’s point of view creates space for mutual understanding. An empathic listener is a skilled listener.
5. Show the power of the pause
The power of being mindful when communicating with others is very important. Kids are not yet skilled in controlling impulsive behavior. Teaching kids that it is important to think first in communication and any other decision making overall, help kids reflect before they act.
How to Spot Communication Difficulties in All Ages
Spotting difficulties in communication is extremely important. Kids as young as 0-7 months who don’t babble can be showing signs of communication difficulties. Early intervention is important in helping kids to grow cognitively and socially by overcoming these difficulties.
Apprehension in oral communication can lead to difficulties in psychological well-being (McCrosky, 1977). There is an increasing rate of anxiety with regard to communication skills in children. A child suffering from Communication Apprehension will consciously avoid situations where oral communication is required in order to avoid the pain or anxiety associated with that communication.
A great deal of research has been done in the development of emotional intelligence and its relationship to effective communication skills (Irving, 2002). Higher test scores exist in individuals with higher reported rates of emotional intelligence, this adds value to the need for improving skills as early as possible. Development of social and communication skills is important for kids, especially those entering Middle School.
It is important to note, however, that difficulty in communication may also have underlying factors such as the presence of autism, attention disorders, or auditory disability. While these present as difficulties, they are not in most cases complete barriers to effective communication. Altering skills to fit the obstacle in effective communication is paramount to a child’s success.
This is not to downplay the importance that a spectrum disorder, an attention disorder, or an auditory difficulty may play in communication in children. Children with these obstacles may find more difficulty with social communication than their peers due to their struggle with effective communication. There is a great deal of research across academia attempting to find aid for parents and educators in this subject.
Here are some concrete ways to spot difficulties in communication:
- immature language
- speech that is difficult to understand
- struggling to talk and or listen in conversation
- avoidance of verbal communication
6 Games and Exercises for Toddlers and Preschoolers in Kindergarten
1. Guess the Object
This is a fun game for kids to use the power of description. Cut a hole in a box, large enough for their little hands. Make sure that they understand that they’re not allowed to peak into the hole. Place an object in the box. Have the child describe what the object feels like and have the class take turns guessing what it might be.
2. Show and Tell
Kids typically love to share at this age. Devoting time for children to share things that are important to them is an encouraging way for them to practice their communication skills. Encouraging classmates to think of questions about what their classmate has shared is also a great way to develop listening skills.
3. Feelings Corner
Many times, children at this age have trouble effectively communicating how they are feeling. Feelings can be so abstract; they may not yet have the skills to effectively communicate them. Having a designated area for kids to go and express these feelings can be very helpful. Have a printout of an emotions wheel. Have matching emojis that the child could silently hand to their teacher.
Create space during the day for the teacher to address these feelings with any participants. It creates a place for trust and understanding in an age group that often has outbursts due to scarcity in understanding from adults and peers.
4. Turn Taking
Taking turns in speaking is just as important as taking turns with a favored toy. An engaging exercise for this age group is color circle time. Each child gets a turn in the center of the circle speaking about a chosen subject. For instance, the color yellow. The child would get 15 seconds to list all of the yellows he or she sees in the room. Then that child names another color for the next child in the center. Before the next turn, however, each new participant would have to say 2 things that they heard from the previous turn.
5. Picture Telling
Have a variety of pictures for each child. Give each a time limit and let them describe what they see in story form. During this exercise, they are processing visual cues and utilizing their ability to speak them to the classroom. The other children are using their listening skills.
6. Finish the Nursery Rhyme Story
Children have to be familiar with the particular nursery rhymes for this activity to be effective. Helping kids imagine and express alternatives to nursery rhymes in a fun and creative way, will get them communicating. Have each kid add on to the next in developing alternative endings to various nursery rhyme stories.
A Look at Communication in the Classroom
Classrooms are not for the faint of heart. Teachers get all the credit for setting up the parameters for which their students will communicate in their rooms. A great way to start is including kids in the process of setting up what communication is valued and what is not tolerated. Kids are clever in realizing what they should allow and what they should not. The organic growth of parameters with inclusion from the students is paramount. Adults always make the rules. Giving kids input in the process is quite helpful.
Criticism and judgment from classmates play an important role in students willingness to be seen and heard in the classroom. This sort of classroom culture should be avoided as much as possible. Encouragement of positive feedback and communication of growth and acceptance is where this culture will grow.
The language used in classrooms is very important. Teachers constantly berating and shaming kids will end up with unhappy, critical classrooms. Positive requests for behavior are far more effective. As the leader in the classroom, teachers are in a position to influence positive language in a powerful way.
Congruent communication is a crucial way for teachers to demonstrate skills in the classroom (Brown, 2005). The role of active listening and body language, especially among adolescents, is vital for creating an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding between teacher and students. Empathetic listening by the teacher creates a connection with the students that allows them to feel “heard.”
Social interaction among peers is important in the growth of effective communication skills in childhood and adolescents. The more inclusive the focus of a classroom, the more growth each student will experience. We are hard-wired to cooperate with others and fostering this positive interaction will benefit the entire culture of the classroom.
4 Ways Students Can Improve Communication Skills
Practice makes improvement, not perfection. Once kids are aware of the skills themselves, the practice is available in every interaction. Being aware of the skills at the moment is the key to their development.
- Active listening skills through reinforcement
- Group projects with collaboration
- Know the benefit of open-ended questions
- Developing empathy
6 Communication Games and Activities for Elementary Students
Have the students gather together in a circle. The instructor will whisper one short topic sentence or phrase into the ear of the student next to them. This phrase is to be whispered into the ear of each student around the circle until arriving back at the instructor, who will then compare the original sentence to the one that it became.
2. Emotional Charades
Write out scenarios that would provoke emotion in participants. The scenarios should be generally light emotions for accessibility in the classroom. For instance: losing your phone, hearing a rumor about you, waiting for a bus, or forgetting your homework. Each student will get a scenario and act it out with no speaking. After the scenario is guessed, discuss the emotional response. The more easily students can verbally express their emotions, the more easily a teacher can effectively communicate with them.
3. Audio Book Interaction
Scholastic has many interactive books available to students for free. The benefit of this interactive experience is for the student to cognitively align reading and speaking the words of the book.
4. Internet Resource
www.creatubbles.com is a website that unites students around the world and invites the practice of effective communication skills.
5. Role Playing
Having students step into different roles to communicate is a great way to expand empathy and perspective taking. Setting goals for the roles is helpful to guide the students toward vocabulary that will better facilitate cooperation. For instance, setting students up as parents or teachers interacting with kids in various scenarios allows the kids to be creative in thinking of words that adults would use.
6. The Follow All Instructions Activity
Create a list of detailed instructions. The first instruction should be READ ALL INSTRUCTIONS FIRST. The last listed should be IGNORE ALL OTHER INSTRUCTIONS AND WRITE YOUR NAME ON THE TOP OF THIS PAPER. The purpose of the activity is for students to better communicate the importance of reading all instructions first before beginning any project.
7 Games and Activities for Middle and High School Students
1. Famous Pairs
Create a list of well-known famous pairs. For instance, peanut butter and jelly, Romeo and Juliet, Superman and Lois Lane, etc. Each participant should receive a post-it-note with one half of a famous pair on their back. Working throughout the room, using only 3 questions per person, the participant will try to figure out who the person is on their back.
Once the person has discovered who they are, they are to find their partner. If the other partner has not figured out his/her identity, they must not reveal themselves until they know.
2. The Best Parts of Our School
Many students are notoriously negative when it comes to their interpretation of school. In an effort to recognize what is good about your school, this activity is connective and a communication skills builder. This activity should be conducted over 3 separate days. The first day is spent with each student listing 10 things that they consider the best parts of their school.
The second day is spent in groups. The groups will create a coordinated list of agreed-upon best parts of their school. The third day is spent creating a class collective list after each group presents their best parts of their school ideas to the class.
3. The Enigmatic Self
We are all mysterious to others. This game promotes self-awareness and communicating what you find mysterious about yourself can be highly connective. In this activity, students write down three things about themselves that no one else knows. In groups of 3 or 4 students, have each read the mysterious aspects to each other.
Each group collects the mysteries. At a later time, each group reads the fact list and the remainder of the class tries to guess who the facts are from the list. Encourage deep respect for these mysteries. Encourage students to celebrate the uniqueness of each other.
4. Stand Up for Fillers
How many people use like, or um, or uh, or so, or right to fill a silent space? It is a lack of self-awareness in communication. This is an impactful activity to mindfully eliminate these fillers in conversation or in public speaking. Each student is given a topic that they will speak about for 1-3 minutes (topic is not important; it should be simple).
During their speaking time, the remainder of the class will stand up if they hear any of these fillers occur in the speech. The class is deeply listening and the speaker is hyper-aware of the words that they use. It is a deliberate shock to the speaker to see the entire class stand when they hear these fillers and helps to be mindful about using precise vocabulary.
5. Blindfold Game
Create an obstacle course with everyday items in the classroom. Sort students into two groups. One person is chosen to be blindfolded and the rest of the group decides how to communicate (from their seats) instructions on how to navigate through the course wearing a blindfold. Time each group and discuss which communication style was the most effective.
This activity builds trust and requires accurate communication to successfully navigate through the course. *Be sure to have at least one person to stand near the blindfolded student to help them stay safe during the course.
6. Drawn Understanding
Have 2 students sit back to back. One student has an object and the other has colored pencils and paper. The student with the object must describe it in as much detail as possible, without directly saying what it is.
The second student must draw the object as best they can, based on the communication of the student with the object.
7. Find It Together
Another blindfold is needed for this activity. Divide the group into pairs. One of the students is blindfolded. It is their job to retrieve specific objects from a designated circle. The other student must guide their blindfolded partner in order to safely retrieve the correct object.
As this game can get somewhat chaotic because of other blindfolded participants, it is the development of voice recognition and teamwork that helps effectively complete the task.
5 Communication Games and Activities for College Students
Students at the college level have likely developed many effective communication skills. There are likely to be many errors in communication skills that have developed as well. At this level of education, there is an opportunity to introduce effective communication skills that will guide students into adulthood and creating workplaces with cooperative cultures.
1. The Guessing Game
This simple activity is a fun way to introduce and show the difference between closed and open questions
Split your class into two equal groups/teams
One person from each team will leave the room for a minute and think of a business object (any common business object that can be found in any office like a stapler, printer, etc.)
When each person returns, it’s the team’s task to ask him/her closed-ended questions only to try and guess the object. If needed, explain that closed-ended questions are those that can be answered only by a yes or no.
Once any team finds the object, this means that they won this round. And they can go for another round.
After two or three rounds, end the game and make the following point:
Discussion and debrief:
Tell the group that obviously it took a long time and effort for us to find out the object in each round, but what if we had no time and only had one question to ask to find out the object, what would that question be?
The question would be “What is the object?” which is an open-ended question.
Open-ended questions are an excellent way to save time and energy and help you get to the information you need fast, however, closed questions can also be very useful in some instances to confirm your understanding or to help you control the conversation with an overly talkative person/customer.
2. One Word Letters
Divide into pairs. Each team has one piece of paper and two pencils. The instructor will start a clock (2-minute time limit). During the two minutes, the pair will write a single letter between them. Each of them will add only one word at a time. The pair is to write as quickly as possible, not going back to re-read anything, but the last word added.
Grammar and spelling are unimportant. Punctuation is only added for sense in the letter. The letter may be written to anyone that the pair decides. It does not need to be a finished letter.
Once the time is up, the letter is read aloud to the group. Something interesting occurs when this activity is repeated. The original letters are nonsensical and amusing. As the process is repeated, the pair’s language begins to become more cohesive.
3. Study Groups
Creating space for college students to manage a team is efficient practice for future employment. Study groups are a great way to create the space for effective communication skills to be fostered. Setting up the study groups for the class is a great way to form new bonds between students and challenge them in handling situations that students might not naturally enter. The benefits of effective learning and the development of cooperative communications skills are far reaching (Colbeck, 2000).
4. Team debate projects
Collaboration is an important skill for students to have when entering the world of employment. To better understand course material, students are given a perspective to take and arguing that point against another within a mediated session is a dynamic way to utilize assertive communication skills.
5. Peer Mentoring
Leadership development requires advanced communication skills. A productive way to develop these skills is through the active engagement of peer mentorship programs. The give and take that exists within this relationship will fully develop skills in both parties.
5 Nonverbal Communication Activities and Games
1. You Don’t Say
Divide the group into smaller groups of 5-7 people. Write out a list of non-verbal behaviors. Have the groups act out and interpret the meanings of these behaviors. This activity helps participants recognize nonverbal communication cues from others.
- Nonverbal behaviors
- Leaning back in a chair with arms crossed
- Leaning forward in a chair
- Resting chin in both hands
- Resting chin on knuckles
- Rubbing your temples
- Tapping fingers on the table
- Looking at your watch
- Staring around the room
2. Picture Telling with Writing
To promote creative communication, this activity engages descriptive language and storytelling. Hold up a picture with people in it. Have the group write about what the people are doing and feeling in the picture. With smaller children, the instructor can ask them to draw what happens next.
Have a list of topic questions prepared. Divide groups into partners. Have one partner act out the answer to the topic question. The second partner guesses by writing what they believe the answer is on a piece of paper.
4. Movement sticks
Hold two poles between the fingers of pairs. Together the pair will adjust to the movement of the poles. This is a fun and interactive way to attune body language.
Divide the group into pairs. Have one partner be chosen as the leader. The other will follow the facial expressions and body language of the leader. This improves eye contact and emotional awareness, along with improvement in awareness of body language cues.
5 Active Listening Games and Exercises
These games that have been around for decades are still fantastic for teaching active listening skills. Everyone knows the directions, and most people enjoy playing.
- Red Light, Green Light
- Simon Says
- Musical Chairs
4. Popcorn Storytelling
This game is fun for all ages. Have the group sit in a circle. Give the group a starting sentence. For instance, “Once upon a time, a tiny gray elephant….” Have each participant add to the story based on what the previous participant has added to the story. It is a great demonstration of utilizing active listening.
5. What’s My Favorite Movie
Have each participant relate their personal favorite movie. Then, in pairs ask them to repeat their partner’s favorite movie. Only those who have actively listened will be able to accurately repeat the favorites. It’s tough when the game has many participants.
5 Assertive Communication Activities for Teens
Assertive communication is a healthy way to communicate one’s needs. Being respectful and honest even in situations that may cause discomfort is a learnable skill. Having the ability to communicate in a way that is in between aggressive and passive is where effective and assertive communication resides. The following are activities that can help teens to develop these vital communication skills.
1. Emotion Awareness
The first step in becoming more assertive is being attuned to your own emotional needs. Many teens have trouble putting words to how they are feeling. Provide each participant with a sheet of various emojis. Take the group through various emotion invoking scenarios. Have them keep track and label the emotions that popped up for them. Being able to name emotions at the moment they are cued is a first step in improving emotional intelligence, which leads to the ability to be more assertive when the skill is needed.
Divide the group into pairs. The pair will get 2 different sets of instructions.
Person 1 instructions will read: Person 2 will make a fist. You MUST get that fist open.
Person 2 instructions will read: Person 1 is going to attempt to get you to open your fist. You must NOT open your fist unless he/she asks you politely and assertively.
Most people will try to pry the fist open. It is an opportunity to efficiently explain assertive communication. Knowing the power of good communication skills is important in building them properly.
3. Situations Samples
Have a list of various scenarios where assertive communication would be the most effective. Offer the teens an opportunity to offer communication responses to the situations. Have them practice aggressive, passive, and then assertive styles. When they better know the difference, the better they may practice it in real life scenarios.
Some sample scenarios could be:
- You are standing in line at the check-out and two salespeople are engrossed in a deep conversation ignoring you.
- Your teacher graded a paper that you feel should have received a higher mark.
- Someone calls you a name that is hurtful.
Go through various options for responses and get the teens brainstorming.
4. Eye contact circle
This nonverbal skill is essential in being assertive in communication. A creative way to build this skill is with this circle. Create a circle with group participants. Each participant will answer the same question (ie: what is your favorite ice cream flavor) and after answering must find mutual eye contact with someone across the circle. Once this eye contact is made, the participant must call out their partner’s name and slowly switch places with them, while maintaining that eye contact.
Put the group into pairs and have them play different roles in communicating with assertive answers. Start by having the teens brainstorm scenarios that they wish they had been more assertive in their past. It gives them an opportunity for a “redo,” which will empower them with new skills when a similar scenario presents itself. Have a list of possible scenarios ready, just in case the brainstorming doesn’t produce enough opportunities to explore.
A Take Home Message
Improvements in communication skills serve people in every area of life. With improvements in listening skills across age groups, more needs will be met because more needs will be effectively heard. Problems develop when children don’t fully develop the skills necessary to communicate their needs to the people around them.
Equipping children with effective communication skills benefits them in emotional intelligence, higher test scores, lowering incidents of bullying, and improvements in overall mental well-being.
With the accessibility of technological advances, kids need these skills to receive focus more than ever. Building these skills in all age groups opens society up for the advancement of cooperation and emotional resilience. The more practice kids get in school and at home, the better these skills will become.
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