4 Great Ways to Use Ed-Tech to Build Communication Skills in the Elementary Classroom

If you read my recent post about my return to blogging, you’ll have seen that I’ve been on a bit of a crusade at my school to prove that ed-tech can be, should be, and is being, used to develop the communication skills of students (If you haven’t read it you can find it here).

One of the positives that came from the frustrating conversation that happily pushed me back into blogging, was that I set about putting together a list of practical ways educators could do this.  It’s not enough to tell time-pressured teachers than you can, in theory, do something. I’ve learned in the past 18 months that giving people something they can directly transfer to their classrooms is critical.  So, without further rambling from me, here are some suggestions for ways to build communication skills in the primary classroom (secondary suggestions hopefully coming soon, too!):

Chatterpix Kids by Duck Duck Moose

If you teach or have young (3-8) children and haven’t already checked out Duck Duck Moose’s app (they’ve recently joined the Khan Academy family) then go and do that now, then come back – we’ll wait for you.

What does it do?

Chatterpix Kids is a very simple app, you snap a picture, draw a line where you want the ‘mouth’ to move, then record what you want to say.  You can also add in a few simple extras such as stickers (funny hats are a big hit with my 6-7 year olds), text, frames, etc.  Then watch your creations, export them to share, or make another.

How could I use it in class tomorrow?

  • To practise giving opinions on a topic/story/event – we recently used it to discuss Chinese New Year, practising giving specific reasons for our opinions (rather than ‘I like it because it is nice.’)
  • Give feedback on work for a partner
  • Student created definitions/points of interest for vocab and topics (share them on your class site, Google Classrooms, Edmodo, blog, etc.)

How is this helping build communication skills?

  • Get all the students are speaking.  Every kid in my class loves doing this, even the shy ones – they can choose whether only I see it, they share it with a couple of friends, or add it to the whole-class mele.
  • It’s a great differentiation tool (you can vary what they speak about, but have all kids join in)
  • Add in a listening station – playback a couple of classmates chatterpix and give them feedback
  • Confidence – okay so the first time in particular everyone gets the nervous giggles about how silly they look.  But then they realise they can talk about things, they do have great ideas, etc.

ThingLink – www.thinglink.com

What does it do?

ThingLink allows you (or students) to annotate pictures or video clips with notes.  You could use it in a number of ways, but I primarily use it as a discussion prompt.  I add questions to the tags, discussion ideas, etc. and send my students a link to the saved version.  They click on each tag to see the questions/prompts I’ve added, then my kids work in pairs/small groups to go through them and discuss them together.  We model and practice language that helps us have good discussions at the start of the year (e.g. I agree with ___, and would add… , I understand your point, however I think…) and recap it for these lessons.

How could I use it in class tomorrow?

  • Activating Prior Knowledge – bring up a picture for a new topic and add some discussion points – what do your class already know about this?
  • Apply new understanding – I recently used this to give students chance to discuss how different objects met, or did not meet, the 7 life processes

How is this helping build communication skills?

  • I have 26 kids in my class.  With the best will in the world I could never, and would never, oversee every discussion they have.  But sometimes, they need a little help staying on track with their discussions.  This way I can, virtually, be there to provide a new question when they need to move on, but they have the freedom to practise without me over their shoulder and can decide how long to spend on each question.  I’m able to get them working independently of me, but with support right there if they need it.
  • Differentiation – I can change the questions as I need to.  Or I can mix up the students working together.  They can change the pace.  They can choose to go on a (reasonable) tangent, or stick to just what I asked).  I can go to groups/students who need me most. Pretty awesome, right?
  • Asking questions – eventually my class get to a point where they are able to set questions too, and then share them with each other – adding another great strand to their communication skills

Podcasting/Vodcasting

For this I use Audacity for podcasts, which free and pretty simple, but there are plenty of other options out there too.  For vodcasts we keep it simple with either Windows Movie Maker or iMovie.  

What does it do?

Recoding a podcast is a bit like a radio show, only instead of broadcasting it live over the radio, you record it to your device to listen back or share later.

How could I use it in class tomorrow?

  • Book Club discussions – record a round table discussion of a book
  • Record a drama performance
  • Discuss world events
  • Perform poetry pieces
  • Interviews
  • School News

How is this helping build communication skills?

  • Students will be able to plan, script and then record their podcast pulling in so many skills
  • Builds teamwork and collaboration
  • Again, builds confidence in speaking
  • Allows students to listen to their own work, and that of other students, and reflect on them together

Skype in the Classroom from Microsoft – https://education.microsoft.com/skype-in-the-classroom/overview

Microsoft are busily chasing down the the likes of Google and Edmodo in providing great services for education (we can compare them another time!).  But a lot of their ideas are, as yet, relatively undiscovered! Skype in the Classroom is a great communication tool.  Last year whilst studying Oceans we were able to Skype an expert, a non-fiction author, direct from our classroom!

What does it do?

You use Skype to connect your class to guest speakers, virtual field trips, other schools, to collaborate on projects, or all of the above!

How could I use it in class tomorrow?

Visit the website and check out the experiences available and then schedule one for your class! My school is not in the US, where many using the service are, but plenty of those offering their expert services have been great at working with us on finding a suitable time!

Use it in connection to:

  • Theme units
  • Geography and History
  • Science
  • Author studies
  • More!

How is this helping build communication skills?

We prep for our Skype session in advance, thinking of topics and questions in small groups. But then we get the chance to actually speak to experts or other students and really put our communication skills into practice!
Clearly, this list is not extensive, it’s not really meant to be.  It’s simply intended to share a few ideas from my own practice, and to help other teachers to think of a few simple ways to use tech to support those all important interpersonal skills!

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