Effective verbal communication

Communicating effectively requires using all forms of classroom talk in combinations appropriate for particular utterances and interactions. In various places earlier in this book, we have suggested ways of doing so, though in those places we usually did not frame the discussion around the term communication as such.

Effective content talk

There are several ways of talking about content so that it is most likely to be understood clearly, one way to describe these is as instructional strategies. In explaining ideas, for example, whether briefly or as a extended lecture, it helps to offer, in advance, organizing ideas, to relate new content to prior knowledge, and to organize and elaborate on new information. There are also several different strategies about content talk intended for students, so that students understand their own thinking as well as possible. For this chapter, we will especially highlight two ways of learning: inquiry learning and cooperative learning. Table 1 summarizes instructional strategies both for students and for teachers, and indicates how they contribute to effective verbal communication about content.

Table 1: Strategies for supporting content talk
Strategy Definition How it helps communication
Content talk by teachers
Using advance organizers Statements or ideas that give a concise overview of new material Orients students’ attention to new ideas about to be learned; assists in understanding and remembering new material
Relating new material to prior knowledge Explicit connections of new ideas to students’ existing knowledge Facilitates discussion of new material by making it more meaningful to students
Elaborating and extending new information Explanations of new ideas in full, complete terms Avoids ambiguities and misunderstandings about new ideas or concepts
Organizing new information Providing and following a clear structure when explaining new material Assists in understanding and remembering new material
Content talk by students
Inquiry learning Students pursue problems that they help to formulate for themselves To formulate and and investigate a problem, students need to express clearly what they wish to find out.
Cooperative learning Students work in small groups to solve a common problem or task To work together, students need to explain ideas and questions to fellow students clearly.

These strategies are also features of classroom management, rather than of communication. Note, too, that the difference between procedural and content talk is arbitrary to some extent; in many situations one kind of talk serves the needs of the other kind.

Table 2: Major strategies of effective procedural and control talk
Strategy for procedural talk Strategy for control talk
Creating and discussing procedures for daily routines Creating and discussing classroom rules of appropriate behavior
Announcing transitions between activities Clarifying problem ownership
Providing clear instructions and guidance for activities Listening actively and empathetically
Reminding students periodically of procedures for completing a task Using I-messages

Effective procedural and control talk

In addition to communicating about content, teachers need to communicate procedures and expectations about appropriate classroom behavior. There are quite a few ways to communicate with students about these matters, though they can also be referred to as methods of classroom management, of creating a positive learning environment, and of resolving conflicts in the class. (Table 2 summarizes several of the major strategies.) By framing communication in these ways, we call attention to their importance as forms of communication. Procedural talk and control talk matter are used in teaching simply because clear procedures and appropriate classroom behavior are necessary students are to learn.