Ten simple games to improve your communication skills

This guest blog was written by Kelly Miller and was originally published by PositivePsychology.com.

Our world is in a communication crisis. Kids spend astounding amounts of time on their electronic devices and with this shift, they are losing their skills in how to communicate their needs—with their own voices.

Picture the kids you know having no access to Wi-Fi. There might be a revolt when you start to ask them to communicate with you without a phone or device.

With the availability of alternative sources of social support (Leung, 2007), reaching kids in a one-to-one setting is difficult. The skill of self-expression in real life and face-to-face interaction has far-reaching implications.

Improving communication skills in children of all ages today could benefit generations to come, salvaging the power of verbal communication in a world buzzing with technological alternatives.

What are communication activities, exercises, and games?

Certain activities, exercises, and games can teach children to communicate better. In most settings, adults decide the communication style and social norms. The rules of etiquette are also decided by adults.

These days, it is revolutionary to teach communication skills in “kid terms” with room to advance the skills as children develop. Imagine a world where every adult practised their face-to-face communication.

The following are effective communication fundamentals (Stanfield, 2017):

  • Empathy;
  • Conversation skills;
  • Established listening and speaking procedures;
  • Respectful vocabulary;
  • The power of the pause;
  • Practice speaking and listening in natural settings;
  • Introspection;
  • Turn-taking.

Any activities, exercises, and games that include these fundamentals can improve skills in communication. Interactive games encourage kids to express their needs. Plus, when kids see these activities as fun and engaging, the more likely they are to participate.

Five activities for middle and high school students

1. Famous Pairs

Create a list of well-known famous pairs. For instance, peanut butter and jelly, Romeo and Juliet, Superman and Lois Lane, etc. Each participant should receive a post-it-note with one half of a famous pair on their back.

Moving throughout the room, with only three questions per person, the participants try to figure out who the person is on their back.

Once the person has discovered who they are, they need to find their partner. If the other partner has not figured out his/her identity, they must not reveal themselves until they know

2. The Enigmatic Self

We are often mysterious to others. This game promotes self-awareness about what you find mysterious about yourself. In this activity, students write down three things about themselves that no one else knows. In groups of three or four students, each read the mysterious aspects to each other.

Each group collects the mysteries. At a later time, each group reads the fact list and the remainder of the class tries to guess who the facts are from on the list. Encourage deep respect for these mysteries. Encourage students to celebrate the uniqueness of each other.

Classrooms with solid trust are often built on awareness and appreciation of each other.

3. Stand Up for Fillers

How many people use “like” or “um,” or “uh” or “so,” or “right” to fill a silent space? It is a nervous habit that is often rooted in the perceived discomfort of silence. This activity helps eliminate these fillers in conversation or in public speaking.

Each student is given a topic that they will speak about for 1-3 minutes (topic is not important; it should be simple). During their speaking time, the remainder of the class will stand when they hear any of these fillers occur in the speech.

The class is listening and the speaker is hyper-aware of the words that they use. It is a deliberate shock to the speaker to see the entire class stand when they hear these fillers and helps to be mindful about using precise vocabulary.

4. Blindfold Game

Create an obstacle course with everyday items in the classroom. Sort students into two groups. One person is blindfolded while the rest of the group decides how to communicate (from their seats) instructions on how to navigate through the course wearing a blindfold. Time each group and discuss which communication style was the most effective.

This activity builds trust and requires accurate communication to successfully navigate through the course. *Be sure to have at least one person to stand near the blindfolded student to help them stay safe during the course.

5. Drawn Understanding

Have two students sit back-to-back. One student has an object and the other has coloured pencils and paper. The student with the object must describe it in as much detail as possible, without directly saying what it is.

The second student must draw the object as best they can, based on the communication of the student with the object.

Five assertive communication activities for teens

Assertive communication is a healthy way to express one’s needs. Being respectful and honest may still cause discomfort, and negotiating that discomfort is a critical skill. The following are activities that can help teens to develop these vital communication skills.

1. Emotion Awareness

Being attuned to our own emotional needs is the foundation of understanding why we are happy or frustrated with others. Many teens have trouble putting words to how they are feeling, and that is often a matter of knowing how to identify complex emotions.

In this activity, provide each participant with a sheet of various emojis. Take the group through various emotion-invoking scenarios. Have them keep track and label the emotions that popped up for them. Being able to name emotions as they are cued is a first step in improving emotional intelligence, and also relaxes the amygdala from over-firing.

2. Fists

Divide the group into pairs. The pair will get two different sets of instructions.

Person 1 instructions will read: Person 2 will make a fist. You MUST get that fist open.
Person 2 instructions will read: Person 1 is going to attempt to get you to open your fist. You must NOT open your fist unless he/she asks you politely and assertively.

Most people will try to pry the fist open. It is an opportunity to efficiently explain assertive communication. Knowing the power of good communication skills is important in building them properly.

Discuss with the students how the directions influenced their actions. Did they consider a peaceful way of asking? Why or why not? What communication role-models do movies and media offer?

3. Situations Samples

Have a list of scenarios where assertive communication would be the most effective. Offer the teens an opportunity to practice responses to the situations. Have them demonstrate aggressive, passive, and then assertive styles.

When they know the difference, the better they may practice it in real life scenarios.

Some sample scenarios could be:

  • You are standing in line at the check-out and two salespeople are engrossed in a deep conversation ignoring you.
  • Your teacher graded a paper that you feel should have received a higher mark.
  • Someone calls you a name that is hurtful.

Go through various options for responses and get the teens brainstorming.

4. Eye Contact Circle

This nonverbal skill is essential in assertive communication. A creative way to build this skill is with this circle. Create a circle with group participants. Each participant will answer the same question (ie: what is your favourite ice cream flavour) and after answering must find mutual eye contact with someone across the circle.

Once this eye contact is made, the participant must call out their partner’s name and slowly switch places with them, while maintaining that eye contact. Eye contact is one of the basic principles of communication and trusting others.

5. Role-playing

Put the group into pairs and have them play different roles. Have the teens brainstorm scenarios from the past where they wish they had been more assertive. This also can be used in the workplace with employees, where people brainstorm in pairs.

This gives people the chance to learn from mistakes, and the empowerment to express their needs during the next uncomfortable situation. Have a list of possible scenarios ready, just in case the brainstorming doesn’t produce enough opportunities to explore.

 A take-home message

Good communication is a skill that serves people in every area of life. Even the best communicators make mistakes, let alone those of us still learning how to improve. Imagine a world where everyone knew the emotion behind their message and tried to communicate with assertive kindness.

Equipping children with effective communication skills results in higher levels of emotional intelligence, higher test scores, lowering incidents of bullying, and improvements in overall mental well-being. There is so much to gain from practicing these skills.

With the omnipresence of technological advances, kids need to practise these face-to-face skills more than ever. 

Building these skills in all age groups builds a society for empathy and emotional resilience. The more practise kids get in school and at home, the better these skills will become. Adults and kids alike have endless opportunities to change how they speak and address their shared needs.

The article has been shortened to only include games and activities for middle and high school students. To read the full version, see below.

Read more about this:

Positive Psychology: 39 communication games and activities for kids, teens and students