Historically, successful leaders in industry and government, like Abraham Lincoln, Abigail Adams, and Martin Luther King Jr., have been effective communicators.
As kids get older, it’s important to continue cultivating their social skills, including communication. That’s why in our etiquette club, our middle school students have been learning how to communicate with each other.
Yes, we are a part of an etiquette club.
We use Etiquette Intermediate from the Etiquette Factory as the basis for our classes. This resource, geared toward kids in 4th grade and above, contains 125 short lessons designed to teach proper manners and various social skills.
For our most recent semester, I focused on what communication skills the kids would need to successfully move through high school and college, and on into adulthood.
Successfully Teaching Social Skills to Middle School Students
Two elements that made the lessons effective were definitely role-playing and relevancy.
We spent a lot of our time acting out various scenarios, showing both positive and negative ways of communicating. There was quite a bit of laughing! Because the lessons were interactive, the kids were engaged and they definitely grasped the material.
Also, I worked hard to show them how they would use everything in a real life situation. Kids love knowing why they are learning something and how they will use it in the future.
Communication works for those who work at it. ~John Powell
Three Communication Skills Teens Should Learn
How to enter and leave a conversation
Many teens don’t know how to correctly enter an existing conversation. They either barge right into the conversation or stand uncomfortably to the side.
First, I had our kids take turns being the person trying to join the discussion. They quickly learned that entering a conversation can be awkward.
I taught them that both parties have a role to play.
The person trying to get into a conversation should wait patiently until they are noticed, instead of jumping right in. Those who are talking need to keep an eye out for others wanting to join them, and during an opening, invite them in and make introductions.
Armed with this new knowledge, the kids tried it again, finding greater success.
Then we spent time working on politely leaving a conversation.
First, I secretly told one person to turn around and leave the discussion without saying a word to anyone. The rest of the kids stood there trying to figure out what happened! This was a concrete way for them to see why excusing yourself is the polite way to make an exit.
How to make small talk and why it is important
Some of our kids love to talk and thrive on in-depth discussions. I wanted them to understand that we can’t have the same level of interaction with everyone. In some situations, small talk is the appropriate form of communication.
We talked about common small talk topics (weather, work, current events, hobbies, etc.), discussed topics that you should avoid (politics, religion, and other polarizing topics) and why successful communicators stay away from these topics.
Then the teens spent some time making small talk with each other.
How to read body language and adapt your conversation
In our group, we have kids who love to hear themselves talk and others who could chat for hours on a particular subject. Unfortunately, neither of these leads to a good dialogue. A conversation is about give and take.
During our role-playing, one person monopolized the conversation and someone else used body language to show that they weren’t really interested or listening. Kids don’t often notice when others check out of their discussions, but by observing others, it was easier for them to recognize when conversations weren’t working.
Together, the kids brainstormed how they could make changes when they noticed it was becoming a one way conversation. They came up with asking the other person some questions, starting a new topic, or even ending the conversation.
Social communication skills take time to develop and require a lot of practice, so it’s important to start working with your teens as early as you can.
Personally, I loved using Etiquette Intermediate because it gave me a good starting place for my lessons. It provided a fun story for the kids to read aloud, but left me enough flexibility to make the classes unique.
What have you used to help your middle schooler build their communication skills?