When you teach communication skills to middle school students, it can test the abilities and creative lesson-planning skills of new and experienced teachers alike.
How do you teach middle schoolers how to share information in concise ways that are still engaging to an audience of their peers? It’s a challenge that needs a multi-pronged approach.
Read on for the five best tips for tackling this challenge when it’s time to teach communication skills.
5 Tips to Teach Communication Skills
1. Model presentation skills
If you’re brave enough, deliver a presentation to your students and have students assess your skills, including delivery and body language. Be deliberate with positive and negative things within your presentation. Have them use the rubric for the assignment to assess you.
Get them to indicate a star (something done well) and a wish (something that could be improved). Learn more info about the star and a wish strategy for assessments in this post.
Another option is to share presentations from amateurs and professionals. A great option for this is to use product pitches like those on Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den. This models a specific kind of presentation for students who can then create their own version for an assignment.
Check out this Oral Presentation Bundle for this type of Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den persuasive assignment, plus 3 more: Good News, Spoken Word, and Book Unboxing. The bundle has everything you need to introduce, scaffold, and eventually grade the assignment. You can get this Oral Presentation Bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers USD or Shopify CAD.
2. Group learning for dos and don’ts
Students have seen, heard, and delivered presentations for years in school, so another way to teach communication skills is to ask them what they view as strong elements based on their previous experience.
Set students up in small groups with a piece of chart paper. Assign everyone a different colour marker – this ensures some accountability from all participants. Then have students record what they think contributes to a good presentation and what detracts from a presentation. If students are struggling to get started, brainstorming some categories (perhaps ones that will reflect the rubric that will be used) will help them narrow their focus.
Once complete, students’ recorded dos and don’ts can be used as criteria to build a new rubric or tweak an existing one. This co-creation of the evaluation tool lets students better understand what they need to do and what they need to avoid to be successful with the assignment.
3. Scaffold to the larger audience
As you continue to teach communication skills, let students do mini ‘presentations’ to each other in pairs and/or small groups before moving to a whole class presentation. This is helpful if students are particularly anxious about speaking to the full class.
To help this be a learning experience, remove peer feedback and simply give students a chance to practice. It could be informal such as sharing their favourite anything with 3 reasons why they love whatever it is they love, or it could be a specific presentation that they’ll eventually give to the class, such as sharing the latest book they’ve read.
The only goal here is to practice public speaking. In the case of the latest book, this can scaffold for a Book Talk presentation where students review their book to the class in a creative way.
Grab this Book Talk Assignment plus three more in this oral communication bundle for middle school that’s a hit with teachers. You can get this Oral Presentations Bundle at Teachers Pay Teachers USD or Shopify CAD.
4. Teach tips and coping mechanisms
What if things go wrong? What can you do? These worries can be debilitating to some, so open the floor to talk about potential mistakes or missteps that can happen when you teach communication skills.
Get the conversation started with anonymous contributions. Provide sticky notes as an exit ticket one day. Then follow up with a gallery walk with the more common fears recorded on larger paper. Have students review the fears and then brainstorm solutions.
Often when students see that they’re not the only ones who feel uncomfortable, that’s helpful. Plus, the contributions of many can provide creative solutions that students can use in future presentations.
5. Provide multiple opportunities
When you teach communication skills, an oral communication mark shouldn’t rest on a single presentation. Sure, if a student had a great day and presented at the top of their game, they should be acknowledged for this. But for the reverse, not so much. Being judged on their worst day doesn’t best showcase a student’s learning or progress.
The suggestion is to include more than one presentation in a mark. As always, this would reflect that we’re looking for learning growth and mastery.
But it’s difficult to have in-class presentations with any frequency because of the time it takes to have each student present. There are solutions to this! And the best one is to have students record a presentation instead of delivering it live like in the Good News assignment in this resource bundle.
Here’s how it works:
- Students use a non-fiction good news article to present to their classmates.
- Create a good news day by having every student record and share their presentations to create a viewing party.
- Students upload their video or, better yet, a link to their presentation (Loom is good for this) into a class set of slides.
- Then everyone can access the slides and watch each others’ videos.
A Final Word on Teaching Communication Skills
Teaching how to deliver an amazing presentation cannot happen all at once. Just like a rubric won’t take into account every skill students learn, the lessons leading up to the assessment shouldn’t try to do everything either.
Not only is it overwhelming for the students and teacher, but it’s also rarely effective in terms of results on presentation day. When you teach communication skills, remember: Just like Aesop’s tortoise, slow and steady always wins the race!
Read more about teaching communication skills with this post that features a variety of ways to incorporate oral presentations into your ELA program.
And if you’re looking to teach communication skills to your middle schoolers, be sure to check out my Oral Presentations Bundles – they are full of great assignments for teaching this skill to your students.
Oral Presentations Bundle 1
Teaching students how to create an engaging oral presentation is an important life skill. In this Oral Presentations Bundle, students will practice their oral presentation skills for these assignments: Current Events News Assignment, Hot Topics Debate Assignment, Book Talks, and a Rant Writing Unit.
- Current Events News Assignment – In this activity, students examine online or print news sources to report on a current event for their class. This can be used with any non-fiction new article or text.
- Hot Topics Oral Presentation Assignment – This assignment can be used with any type of non-fiction text, news broadcast, documentary, or video on any topic in the content areas of Science, Math, History, Geography, World News. A lesson plan is provided explaining how to use this strategy in guided practice – modelled, shared, and independent.
- Student Book Talk Assignment – In this presentation assignment, students review their book for the class. Students are provided with several presentation ideas on how to creatively review their novel for the class. Book Talks encourage students to be accountable for their independent reading in an engaging manner.
- Rant Writing Unit – Students rant to each other daily, so why not channel that creative energy into some high-quality writing? Rants are an engaging way to get students to write and share their thoughts and opinions in the classroom.
What Teachers Are Saying:
“We are using this resource in class right now and we’ve barely scratched the surface. My kids LOVE a good argument and the rant work in here is perfectly suited for 5th graders. As the author mentions, there are a couple of videos that need to be monitored for appropriateness, more because of innuendo than anything else, but I just stopped those videos at the right moment and they were PERFECT. This is a great resource to reinforce the research-based argument writing that we’re doing in class. Love it!” – Corey C.
Oral Presentations Bundle 2
Teaching students speaking and presentation skills is an important life skill. Students will practice their oral presentation (speaking) skills with this Oral Presentations Bundle using these 4 different assignments: Good News, Product Pitch, Book Unboxing, and Spoken Word.
- Persuasive Pitch Assignment: Fans of the TV shows “Shark Tank” and “Dragon’s Den” will love this assignment. Students will develop an idea of how to improve their school (e.g. installing recycling bins, creating a snack program, etc.) then they will pitch their idea to the judges (their classmates). After all of the presentations, students will vote on which idea they would invest their money in. This assignment is scaffolded into 5 different lessons.
- Good News Assignment: Students are constantly exposed to the news. It is important to showcase the good events that occur as well as the current events. In this assignment, students find a good news event to share with the class in an oral presentation. Students can present this information in a video format or a live presentation. This can be used with any non-fiction good news article.
- Spoken Word Assignment: Use this assignment to help students plan, write and present their own spoken word poem. Spoken word is an engaging way to bring public speaking and authentic writing into the classroom. These poems are an engaging way to get students to write and share their thoughts and opinions.
- Book Unboxing Assignment: Students love social media and YouTube culture. Use their knowledge and excitement to promote reading in your classroom. Students select 3 – 5 books they have read and unbox them for the class. Students can present this information in a video format or a live presentation. This can be used with any fiction or non-fiction book.
What Teachers Are Saying:
“My students found these assignments engaging and fun to do. I found this resource very easy to navigate and use. I would definitely recommend it!” – Sarah F.
“Great resources to change up some of my oral presentation assignments. Students were engaged and the assignments were easy to follow.” – Amy F.