Our world is in a communication crisis. Kids spend astounding amounts of time on their electronic devices and with this shift, they are losing their skills in how to communicate their needs—with their own 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 without a phone or device.
With the availability of alternative sources of social support (Leung, 2007), reaching kids in a one-to-one setting is 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 could benefit generations to come, salvaging the power of verbal communication in a world buzzing with technological alternatives.
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?
Certain activities, exercises, and games can teach children to communicate better. In most settings, adults decide the communication style and social norms. The rules of etiquette are also decided by adults.
These days, it is revolutionary to teach communication skills in “kid terms” with room to advance the skills as children develop. Imagine a world where every adult practiced their face-to-face communication.
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 that include these fundamentals can improve skills in communication. Interactive games encourage kids to express their needs. Plus, when kids see these activities as fun and engaging, the more likely they are to participate.
The Importance of Teaching Kids Communication Skills
There are profound psychological implications for underdeveloped communication skills. Conversely, more effective communication skills result in a higher quality of life.
Communicating well enables people to know and ask for what they need, and can result in higher self-efficacy. With higher self-efficacy, there are lower instances of violence, bullying, and self-destructive behaviors.
Research with people who are hearing impaired revealed the impact on feelings of loneliness and depression (Knutson, 1990). Now, the same effect is showing for children who are not severely hearing impaired.
When there is difficulty in basic communication, there is a barrier to a fundamental human need, thus resulting in emotional and psychological problems. We are hard-wired to connect and belong with other humans.
For example, when a toddler cannot communicate their needs, a tantrum might follow. When a pre-teen child cannot effectively communicate, frustration might ensue. When a teenager cannot effectively communicate, a perfect storm might occur. And when adults cannot understand and state their needs, lives can fall apart.
Everyone benefits from practicing good communication. Right now, children are in desperate need of effectively communicating with their peers and with adults.
Good communication is a habit, and it needs to start young.
Effective communication skills equip children with the ability to have their needs met. As children age, their skills need to increase as difficult situations occur. In school and social settings, a child’s peers play a significant role in how these skills develop.
Any parent of a teen is aware of how these skills are a part of a teenager-parent relationship. Modeling appropriate communication skills is a great way to show children (and teenagers) how people use kind communication to get “what they want.”
Basic communication skills are needed for basic survival. Something as basic as eye contact can be difficult to maintain for many children, even though it is the most critical part of nonverbal communication. Looking people in the eye is a skill. It takes practice to understand the importance of eye contact for the development of good manners and social connection.
So how do we begin teaching kids communication skills? Every setting offers learning opportunities. When children know how to listen and respond, they also develop deeper understandings of empathy and compassion.
When kids communicate well, they are more likely to recognize and pursue opportunities with confidence and self-efficacy.
You can practice life-changing skills starting with these simple exercises below.
5 Tips on How to Teach Communication Skills to Children
Every day, if you work with kids or have them yourself, you model how to ask for what you need. Even simple moments where you ask a coworker for a pencil can be goldmines of modeling.
Here are five specific tips.
1. Be a Model
The old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do” rears its head once again. Kids are more likely to do “as you do” regardless of what you say. Parents who model good communication have children who are—shocker—better at communicating with others.
It is important to note that sometimes, difficulty in communication may have underlying factors such as the presence of autism, attention disorders, or auditory disability.
2. Create a Framework for Communication Procedures
Teaching children how and when to communicate is a foundational skill. Chronic interrupting and volume control are disruptions to communication everywhere, not just for children. Set boundaries for kids to know when it is appropriate to interject with their opinion. Positively reinforce kids or students who follow the known expectations.
Regardless of the framework specifics, teach kids how to get your attention—without inappropriate disruption.
3. Don’t Embarrass Children by Correcting Them in Public
Shame is powerful, and can negatively influence a desire to learn for anyone. Kids will make mistakes in their communication, as do adults. That two-year-old who called a stranger “fat” needs to understand why that is inappropriate, but they do not need to be corrected in front of everyone.
Gently correcting errors in private is a basic principle of positive discipline, and it helps promote a growth mindset where children feel safe. If a child is embarrassed in public, they will make fewer communication attempts in the future, or worse, continue the act for attention.
4. Teach Empathy
Empathy is an important topic for children in every aspect of life. The ability to see someone else’s point of view creates space for mutual understanding and concern for the pain of others. An empathic listener is a skilled listener. It is crucial to value and praise the students who show care for other’s feelings, as this promotes a culture of empathy.
5. Show the Power of the Pause
The power of mindful communication is very important. Kids are especially unskilled with controlling their impulsive behavior, as are many adults. Simply teaching kids to think about the impact of their words and any other decision-making overall, can help kids reflect before they act.
It is equally important to value the pauses between statements and encourage a culture of pausing to also create space for others to speak who may need more processing time.
How to Spot Communication Difficulties in All Ages
Spotting difficulties in communication is important. Infants as young as 0-7 months who don’t babble might show signs of communication difficulties. Early intervention can help with cognitive and social growth.
Apprehension in oral communication also 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 even avoid situations where oral communication is needed, just to avoid the pain and 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.
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.
Current research is trying to link other obstacles children may have with these developmental differences.
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
Most of these games do not take long, and the skills they teach are foundational to future lessons.
1. Guess the Object
This is a fun game for kids to practice the power of description. Cut a hole in a box that is large enough for their 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. Have the class take turns guessing what it might be.
2. Show and Tell
Many kids love to share at this age. Devoting time for children to share things is an encouraging way for them to hone their communication skills. Encourage classmates to think of questions about what their classmate has shared, as a way to develop active listening skills.
3. Feelings Corner
Many times, children at this age have trouble communicating how they are feeling. Emotions can be so abstract; they may not yet have the skills to recognize them at first. Have a designated area for kids to express these feelings, where a printout of an emotions wheel is on display. Have matching emojis that the child can silently hand to their teacher.
Create space during the day for the teacher to address these feelings with any participants. This creates a place for trust and understanding in an age group prone to outbursts when feeling misunderstood or wronged.
Taking turns in speaking is much like sharing a favored toy, and children need to learn the skill. 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, each new participant says two things that they heard from the previous sharer.
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 practice their listening skills.
6. Finish-the-Nursery-Rhyme Story
Children need to be familiar with the particular nursery rhymes for this activity to be fun. Help kids imagine and express alternative endings to nursery rhymes in a fun and creative way. Have each kid add to the shared ending and as a class, develop alternative endings to various nursery rhyme stories.
Storytelling is a rich way to practice listening and communication.
A Look at Communication in the Classroom
Classrooms are not for the faint of heart. Teachers deserve the credit for establishing the parameters for their students to learn basic communication. What a teacher tolerates and encourages from their students is one way that children absorb communication habits.
Kids are clever. They know what they can “get away with,” and they look to adult figures for examples of how to speak and act. Thus, classroom parameters are paramount, especially when students get to “make the rules” too. Adults always make the rules, but when students help with the process, they are likely to exhibit more buy-in.
Criticism and judgment from classmates should be avoided in classroom culture as much as possible. These issues must be addressed, while also recognizing students practicing clear and kind communication.
The language and tone used in classrooms are important. Teachers who berate and shame kids may speak of frustration with unhappy and critical students.
Kids are smart—they respond to respect.
As the leader in the classroom, teachers are in a position to influence positive language and tone. Congruent communication is one way for teachers to demonstrate skills in the classroom (Brown, 2005). The role of active listening and body language among adolescents can help create 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 also important in the growth of communication skills. The more inclusive the focus of a classroom, the more growth each student will experience.
We are hard-wired to cooperate with others. Fostering positive interactions will benefit the entire culture of the classroom, as well as teach children skills that will serve them throughout life.
4 Ways Students Can Improve Communication Skills
Practice makes improvement—not perfection. Once kids are aware of these skills, the practice is available in every interaction.
- 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
Telephone is a common “playground game,” and also a powerful metaphor for teaching miscommunications and the practice of sharing information. The rest of the games, like Telephone, are also quite fun.
Have 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 will 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 might provoke emotion in participants. The scenarios should be generally light emotions like forgetting your lunch, losing your phone, hearing a rumor about you, waiting for a bus, or forgetting your homework.
Each student then gets a scenario and acts 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 communicate with them and reference confusing feelings.
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 align reading with speaking the words of the book.
4. Internet Resources
www.creatubbles.com is one website that unites students around the world and offers a platform to learn about creative and effective communication skills.
This 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, assigning students as parents or teachers allows the kids to be creative in thinking of words that adults would use, and how it might feel to be in a situation from a view other than their own.
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 communicate the importance of reading all instructions first before beginning any project. It offers a great conversation as well, for students of all ages.
7 Games and Activities for Middle and High School Students
So far we have covered a lot of games geared towards younger audiences, although they can be applied to older students too. Now we offer resources specifically for older 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.
Moving throughout the room, with only three questions per person, the participants try to figure out who the person is on their back.
Once the person has discovered who they are, they need 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 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 three 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 often mysterious to others. This game promotes self-awareness about what you find mysterious about yourself. In this activity, students write down three things about themselves that no one else knows. In groups of 3 or 4 students, 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 on the list. Encourage deep respect for these mysteries. Encourage students to celebrate the uniqueness of each other.
Classrooms with solid trust are often built on awareness and appreciation 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 nervous habit that is often rooted in the perceived discomfort of silence. This activity helps 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 when they hear any of these fillers occur in the speech.
The class is 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 blindfolded while 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 two 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 guides their blindfolded partner to retrieve the correct object.
This game can get chaotic because of other blindfolded participants. It requires discussions after the activity, as well as voice recognition and teamwork. A closing discussion question could be something like, “How did people ignore the distractions of other sounds?” It can lead to great conversations on listening and volume control.
5 Communication Games and Activities for College Students
Students at the college level have likely developed some effective communication skills. At this level of education, there are still deep needs to practice communication—it is a skill that needs work.
1. The Guessing Game
This 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 lead a classroom discussion. Tell the group that it took a long time and effort to find out the object in each round, but what if they had no time and only 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 useful 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 each other, or the group if classroom trust is solid.
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. It makes for a rich discussion.
3. Study Groups
Creating space for college students to manage a group culture is practice for future employment and collaborations. Study groups are one way to create the space for effective communication skills to be fostered.
Setting up the study groups for the class can form new bonds between students, and challenge them with handling situations that students might not naturally enter. The benefits of effective learning and the development of cooperative communication skills are far-reaching (Colbeck, 2000).
4. Team Debate Projects
Collaboration is an important skill for students to have in the world of employment, opinions, and creating solutions. To understand any selected course material, have students argue a point against another within a mediated session.
There are many resources on how to facilitate team debates. Discuss the complications that may arise with debates, and how they can practice listening and being willing to change their mind if the argument is convincing.
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.
Mentors benefit from the self-confidence boost that their guidance is needed, while mentees benefit from advice and a role model.
5 Nonverbal Communication Activities and Games
These games can all start or end with a discussion on what is more valuable in communication: nonverbal or verbal cues?
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. Within their groups, have students display one of the nonverbal behaviors, while everyone else in the group shares or writes down what nonverbal message they are receiving.
Non-verbal behaviors can include:
- 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;
Ask the participants afterward to share their small-group findings. Ask the class if anyone has ever experienced a nonverbal cue that signaled to them much stronger than any words? Chances are that they have, and this provides context from their direct experience.
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. This is a great form of imagination and emotional expression.
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 a leader. The other will follow the facial expressions and body language of the leader. This works on eye contact and emotional awareness, along with improvement in awareness of body language cues.
Switch the leader with the follower for the second round. Ask the class if they preferred to follow or lead, and why?
5 Active Listening Games and Exercises
These games have been around for decades and 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 describee their favorite movie to a partner. 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 express one’s needs. Being respectful and honest may still cause discomfort, and negotiating that discomfort is a critical skill. The following are activities that can help teens to develop these vital communication skills.
1. Emotion Awareness
Being attuned to our own emotional needs is the foundation of understanding why we are happy or frustrated with others. Many teens have trouble putting words to how they are feeling, and that is often a matter of knowing how to identify complex emotions.
In this activity, 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 as they are cued is a first step in improving emotional intelligence, and also relaxes the amygdala from over-firing.
Divide the group into pairs. The pair will get two 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.
Discuss with the students how the directions influenced their actions. Did they consider a peaceful way of asking? Why or why not? What communication role-models do movies and media offer?
3. Situation Samples
Have a list of scenarios where assertive communication would be the most effective. Offer the teens an opportunity to practice responses to the situations. Have them demonstrate aggressive, passive, and then assertive styles.
When they 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 assertive 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. Eye contact is one of the basic principles of communication and trusting others.
Put the group into pairs and have them play different roles. Have the teens brainstorm scenarios from the past where they wish they had been more assertive. This also can be used in the workplace with employees, where people brainstorm in pairs.
This gives people the chance to learn from mistakes, and the empowerment to express their needs during the next uncomfortable situation. Have a list of possible scenarios ready, just in case the brainstorming doesn’t produce enough opportunities to explore.
A Take-Home Message
Good communication is a skill that serves people in every area of life. Even the best communicators make mistakes, let alone those of us still learning how to improve. Imagine a world where everyone knew the emotion behind their message and tried to communicate with assertive kindness.
Equipping children with effective communication skills results in higher levels of emotional intelligence, higher test scores, lowering incidents of bullying, and improvements in overall mental well-being. There is so much to gain from practicing these skills.
With the omnipresence of technological advances, kids need to practice these face-to-face skills more than ever.
Building these skills in all age groups builds a society for empathy and emotional resilience. The more practice kids get in school and at home, the better these skills will become. Adults and kids alike have endless opportunities to change how they speak and address their shared needs.
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