Children use language for a variety of purposes (requesting, telling, negotiating, expressing feelings, refusing, etc.), maintaining a topic of conversation, taking appropriate turns (initiating and responding) in conversation, giving sufficient information for listeners to understand, and speaking in a manner that is understandable to listeners (appropriate volume, intonation, etc.) Some children seldom speak to peers; others speak with peers on the playground, but rarely communicate with the teacher in the classroom.

a.  Explain to the student in simple terms what he/she needs to practice to help communicate well with others. (e.g. 'When people have a conversation of when we have a class discussion, it helps if everybody talks about the same thing.  That's called staying on topic.  People can have their own ideas, and we want you ideas but they should be about the same thing.  I am going to help you practice talking about the same thing as the other people in a group.)

b.  Use role playing situations to practice the target social language skill.  Small groups can practice acting out situations and using appropriate communication skills.  They can demonstrate these before the whole class.  This gives a chance to discuss and contrast inappropriate and appropriate use of language.

c.  Give specific feedback that tells a student what he/she must do to improve communication (e.g. 'There is noise in this room and I can't hear you when you use a soft voice.  Please speak in a louder voice.' of 'You spoke so clearly, I understood you easily, even in this noisy room,')

d.  Look for and praise appropriate communication in all students.  Be specific about what was done well.

e.  If a student seldom initiates and or responds to peers or adults, or if the student does these inappropriately, it can be helpful to plan cooperative work with a compatible peer who will encourage conversation.  both students can be told that one of the goals of the work is that partners will take turns talking.  When this is successful, the grouping can be changed or gradually made larger.  Another strategy is to assign a student who seldom initiates to tutor or teach a peer.

f.  Frequently call on students who self initiate.  Be alert for subtle non-verbal signals (e.g. eye contact) that they may be ready to communicate.  Model and practice ways to initiate and respond in various situations.

g.  Assign special tasks requiring communication to the student (e.g. giving a verbal message to the librarian or the secretary.  Then pre-practice giving the message with the student.

h.  If a student uses language in a socially unacceptable way, it can be helpful to assign an older student who uses appropriate communication to work with the student.  Let the student know that the opportunity to interact with this or other peers is contingent upon using appropriate language.

Prepared by S. Penner 9/20/93