Communication skills resource 5: Tips for developing students' skills

Communication skills resource: Tips for developing students' skills [PDF 106KB]

First of all

  1. Find out about available resources
    • Find out what language development resources and activities (e.g. online resources, drop-in sessions, workshops, thesis writing circles) are available to students through Student Learning and give this information to your students.
    • Make contact with Student Learning in your College to explore how you can embed language development activities into your subject and/or provide adjunct activities and resources.
  2. Find out about your class
    • Consider the cultural and linguistic composition of your classes and look at relevant information and strategies for teaching effectively in culturally and linguistically diverse contexts. You can find useful guides in Tips for teaching EAL students and Additional Resources.
    • Use the Communication Skills Language Audit Tool to analyse how language is being taught and assessed in your subject. This can help you identify areas for attention.
    • Do an informal survey to find out whether students are having any language-related difficulties in your class and what their suggestions are for improvement. Difficulties could relate to comprehension, the structure and style of academic texts, or vocabulary for example, and could be experienced by local and international students alike.
  3. Find out about your teaching
    • Reflect on your classroom communication: Do you use a lot of idioms?, Do you explain as you go?, Are there terms which students might find difficult to understand?, Are you referring only to local contexts?, How do you introduce discipline-specific terms and concepts?, Do you use good teaching techniques such as frequent paraphrasing and lots of examples? To help you do this, you can either record a segment of your own teaching (20 minutes minimum) and listen to it, or ask a colleague to observe to your teaching and give you feedback.

In the classroom

  1. Make the focus of the lesson clear
    • Use simple direct language to explain the structure of the lesson, e.g. 'Last week we covered…This week we will cover…By the end of today's class you will have….'
    • Point out key concepts so that students know what is important to learn in this subject area and why.
  2. Make your language accessible
    • Provide information in both written and oral form.
    • Record your classes and make them available to students online before the scheduled class time where possible.
    • Become more aware of the language you use to introduce, explain and teach discipline-specific terms, language and concepts.
    • Note down new or difficult terminology on your presentation slides or on the board and encourage students to keep their own vocabulary files or lists, or consider working with Student Learning to develop a glossary.
  3. Provide opportunities for students to communicate
    • Create activities where students need to interact, discuss and present. This can be done even in large lectures.
    • Provide opportunities for students to work in mixed groups with members from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Groups do not have to be fixed throughout the semester. Students can work in allocated mixed groups for some activities and groups of their choice for others.
    • For group presentations, ensure that all students are required to speak.
  4. Encourage participation
    • Use ice-breaker activities in the first classes of semester to help students get to know each other and feel comfortable talking together.
    • Make your expectations about student participation clear from the beginning.
    • Instead of directing questions to the whole class or an individual and expecting an immediate response, allow students time to prepare their answers to questions. Even a minute or two can help students digest the question and think of how to phrase their answers.
    • Get students to discuss questions in pairs first and check each other's understanding of the topic before reporting back to the group.
    • Ensure group activities are structured, with written instructions for clear and concrete tasks, and (where possible) an assigned job or role for each member.
    • Provide adequate time for the completion of group tasks and for members to prepare the presentation of ideas/materials to the class.

For assessment tasks

  1. Prepare your students
    • Work with Student Learning lecturers to design classroom teaching and learning activities that develop the necessary communication skills students for each assessment task.
  2. Start early
    • Ensure subjects have early assessment tasks in place. These can help identify students' language strengths and weaknesses and help you ensure adequate development of communication skills is provided, both within the subject and outside it.
    • Consider carrying out a communication skills diagnostic task early in the semester, either as part of an assessment task or as a discrete task. This can be designed and delivered in collaboration with Student Learning staff and can direct students to relevant resources.
  3. Explain clearly
    • Present assessment rubrics to students before they begin the task. Explain assessment criteria clearly and check that students understand the criteria and how marks will be apportioned.
    • Provide students with an exemplar for each assessment task where possible (i.e. a model text they can refer to, following the same structure but on a different topic). Annotate it for key features and use it to illustrate the criteria you will use for marking.
  4. Assess communication skills
    • Ensure that subject elements are constructively aligned so that the communication skills which are being assessed are the communication skills which are stated in the intended learning outcomes and developed through the curriculum content.
    • Use marking rubrics which include language criteria. These will alert students to the communication skills they need to demonstrate and will ensure students are being marked on those skills. See Assessing Communication Skills for some examples. You can adapt these examples or work with Student Learning in your College to develop your own. Student Learning staff are also able to provide staff training in assessing communication skills.
    • Avoid using marking software which does not allow you to upload or create your own rubric. Some of the online rubrics are very rudimentary and/or are difficult for students to interpret.
    • Use peer- and self-assessment activities around communication skills to encourage self-regulated language learning. These should be based on simple and concrete criteria which students understand.
  5. Give useful feedback
    • Where possible, provide formative feedback (i.e. feedback that students can use to develop their skills) on assessment tasks before final drafts are submitted.This formative feedback should be in the form of comments only and should advise students on what was done well, what needs improvement and how to improve.
    • Avoid giving voice feedback in online marking software. It can be difficult for students to understand and they are not able to take a record of the feedback to Student Learning staff for assistance.
    • Once assignments have been returned, encourage students to read their feedback and write down what they will do to improve for next time.