George Lucas Educational Foundation
Communication Skills

Common Core in Action: Why Collaboration and Communication Matter

January 16, 2014
Photo credit: flickingerbrad via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

When students graduate from high school, there is a collection of important (or core) skills we want them to possess. That's where the Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor standards (CCRA) come in. With 32 anchor standards in total in the areas of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language, these anchor standards are generalized and quite broad. However, you can find more specific skills for teaching each of the anchor standards embedded within the grade-level Common Core state standards (CCSS).

So what we teachers need to know is that the authors of the Common Core believe the CCRA are skills each seventeen- or eighteen-year old should have if they are to be prepared for work and/or university upon secondary graduation. That said, the rest of this blog post is devoted to the following speaking and listening anchor standard:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

What is expected in this speaking and listening anchor standard? By the time students graduate, they will need to be able to talk in a productive way about all kinds of things with all kinds of people while also being inclusive, articulate, and convincing of the importance and value of their individual ideas and stances.

Let's think about how this looks in the real world: In work, we do this everyday; in university, we probably do it less yet it's becoming more common. Group work, collaborative teams, planning partners -- all these are seen in working settings and in many college classrooms.

So, how do we prepare children for this?

Strategies for Mingling

For those teachers out there who are reticent about group work as a daily routine (there's no time! I've got so much to cover! The kids get so out of control!), take a breath and know that you are not alone. You can do this; we've got to do this. Far from over are the days when it was just about the three Rs.

First off, besides designing learning experiences where students collaborate, we've got to get them mingling. Let's remember, the featured anchor standard calls for "diverse partners" and children are no different than adults: We like what and who is most familiar and usually stick to those we know. So we have to make sure each child goes outside of his/her comfort zone and speaks and listens to every child in the classroom on a regular basis (I cringe to think of my days as a new high school teacher when I am sure "student K" went the whole year without uttering a sentence to "student G" and vice versa.)

You can simply partner and group students, and that's a fine approach to ensure all students get face-to-face time with each child in the room, or try these fun strategies for mingling the masses:

  1. Birthday Buddies: Have students line up chronologically by month and day of their birthday. The person(s) closest to their own birthdate is their partner(s).
  2. Same Thumb Size: Students find one, two, or three students who have a similar thumb size.
  3. Wander & Wonder: Tell students to find someone who they don't know well and to ask that person something they have wondered about them.
  4. Joke and Punchline Match up: Divide the class in two groups. Each student in group one gets a strip of paper with a very brief joke on it (example: what type of music do mummies listen to?) The students in group two each have a piece of paper with a punchline written on it (answer: wrap music). Students mingle until they find the right match and their partner.

These are silly and will lead to some laughter and messiness and, I know, I know, a bit of mayhem. But so what? Learning should be fun, and with three million students dropping out of high school nationally each year, we have got to bring more joy and laughter into our secondary classrooms.

Strategies for Listening

So let's return to the wording in speaking and listening anchor standard 1. It calls for "building on others' ideas" and in order to do this, kids need to listen to each other and listen closely.

Here are some ways to hone those listening skills and hold students accountable for opening their ears and minds when talking with their peers:

  1. After listening to his partner, a student writes using sentence starters like the following: "I like how my partner said ____________ and I'd like to add that _______________; I would like to connect my partner's thoughts about _________ with ____________."
  2. As a student listens to her partner, she creates questions connected to what that student is sharing. She asks the questions when her partner is finished talking.
  3. One student listens to another. Afterward the listener rephrases and/or paraphrases what his partner just said. The speaker can then give feedback to the listener on how well he captured the essence of what she had said.

Practice Persuading

The standard also calls students to the task of "expressing their own [ideas] clearly and persuasively."

One way to do this: Have students try and convince each other why an ice cream flavor, a musician, or a sport is the best. They can brainstorm their reasons first in writing and then share with a partner or in small groups. This is low stakes and fun, while giving the teacher an opportunity to introduce them to persuasive techniques such as: rhetorical questions, reasoning, generalizations, and emotive language.

The next step will be to have students combine their new discussion strategies for persuading with the content they are learning, for example:

  • In language arts, why one particular character is to blame for the tragic events that unfold in a story
  • In science, why genetically modified food is a bad idea (or a good idea)
  • In history, why the Chinese Exclusion Act was a mistake
  • In math, why one small-business loan package is more economically sound than another

Teaching is two-parts planning, one-part reflection, and extra heavy on the experimentation. That said, if a strategy or activity shared in this blog resonated with you, go ahead and give it a try. Meanwhile, how does the current teaching and learning in your classroom already address this speaking and listening anchor standard? How might you continue to increase collaboration and communication in your classroom? Please share in the comment section below.

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Filed Under

  • Communication Skills
  • Collaborative Learning
  • College Readiness
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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