Roughly fifty percent of my time as an engineer was spent on communication in one form or another. Writing documents, engaging in meetings, and giving presentations are an inherent part of the job. In order to succeed, one has to be able to communicate well. The same is true in my classroom.
Since experience is a better teacher than telling, I let me students experience the value of communication during the first week of school. I use the wordless picture book Zoom. This book shows a series of pictures, each of which zooms out a little bit from the previous page: you start with the comb of a rooster, then you see the rooster, then you see some children looking out a window at the rooster, and so on.
I have removed the binding from the book so that the pages are separate. The pages are such that the front side has a picture and the back side is black. I laminated the pages to protect them a little bit.
Each student is given a page from the book and told not to show the picture to anyone. Students are then told that the pages form a book and they must put the book back together in the correct order. However, they may not show their picture to anyone. They must figure out the order simply by talking about what they see on their page and by listening to what others say. When they think they are done, they lay the pages (picture side down) on the floor side by side in order. When all the pages are on the floor, they reveal their picture and step back to see how they did.
The final stage of the activity is to discuss the activity. Why did some of the pictures end up in the correct order while others did not? What worked? What didn’t? What was essential for success? How does that relate to communication in general?
Students learn the importance of detail and clarity in communication.
I learn a lot about my students. I get to see who the leaders in the group are and to see their leadership style. I get to see who has great ideas but needs to find a voice. I get to see who the followers are. I get to see who the questioners are. I also get to hear how students think and how they communicate.