Teaching Communication Skills to Gifted Students

Instructor: Linda Winfree

Linda has taught English at grades 6-12 and holds graduate degrees in curriculum and teacher leadership.

In this lesson, you will learn how to plan instructional activities to enhance your gifted students' oral and written communication skills in ways that will also strengthen critical thinking.

Teaching Communication Skills to Gifted Students

Are your gifted students engaged in thinking about big ideas? Then they will need multiple means to communicate their thoughts. When designing instruction that encourages your students to think deeply and critically, you will want to plan ways to develop their communication skills.

In fact, developing advanced communication skills actually helps students develop their thinking skills. Separating critical thinking from effective communication is impossible. As students analyze, synthesize and evaluate data, they will naturally form questions that lead to discussion. Likewise, they will form ideas and draw conclusions that are most effectively shared in written communication.

Let's look at some strategies for incorporating oral and written communication instruction into your gifted classroom.

Oral Communication Skills

Oral communication instruction can be embedded into various classroom assignments. As a teacher of gifted students, you will want to model effective communication for your students and then provide multiple opportunities to practice.

Power Pairs

Cooperative learning allows students to practice two key communication skills: discussion and listening. The simplest method for incorporating cooperative learning is to seat students in power pairs, based on achievement levels, classroom data or student interests. Teach students how to share and listen to ideas.

For example, when teaching characterization to her gifted middle schoolers, Amie asks them to list characteristics they see in the protagonist of the story they are reading. After ranking their top three, they turn to their partner and each partner shares the list. Together, students then generate a new list of the top three characteristics. The class debriefs as a whole, and each pair has practiced discussion and listening while employing the critical thinking skills of analysis and evaluation.

Large Group Discussion

These same skills can then be applied in larger group discussion such as a fishbowl or Socratic Seminar. In a fishbowl discussion, Amie seats her students in two concentric circles. The students in the inner circle discuss open-ended questions about a recently studied literary work. The students on the outer circle take notes on the discussion and generate new questions. After a few minutes, the groups switch places, and the discussion continues.

Amie has also found that new discussion websites allow students in the outer circle to have their own technology-based discussion while the inner circle discusses orally. As in the original model, students swap spaces and take part in the oral or technology discussion. This adaptation allows Amie's gifted students to practice both written and oral skills simultaneously.

A Socratic Seminar includes much of the same thinking and communication skills. In these discussions, students come prepared with self-generated questions to guide discussion on a topic. Instead of having two circles as in the fishbowl, the discussion is conducted as one large group. Students employ the listening and talking skills originally introduced in their power pairs.

Written Communication Skills

Like oral communication, you can embed written communication into your everyday classroom activities. In math or science, students can write about how to solve a problem or prove a hypothesis. In social studies, students can explore the intricacies of history or cultures through research and writing.

As with oral communication, your gifted students need models of how to effectively communicate their deep thinking in writing. Some types of writing that your students may learn to produce are:

  • Journal entries
  • Formal essays
  • Reviews
  • Opinion pieces
  • Narratives
  • Research summaries

Let's consider how this might work in the classroom.

Amie knows her gifted students need written communication skills. She has them write often, sometimes to reflect on their learning and to generate questions about what they are studying. Throughout a unit of study, she has students gather notes and ideas through journaling. They then use these small pieces of written communication to develop, organize and write formal essays.

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