I read a quote the other day from the Carnegie Institute of Technology that reminded me of the importance of soft skills: "85 percent of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate and lead. Shockingly, only 15 percent is due to technical knowledge."

This quote can apply to effective school leadership, the importance of building effective social-emotional learning programs, and even the necessity of strong leadership career and technical opportunities for students whose path may not be college. If students do not have strong communication and relationship skills, we have missed the purpose of a holistic education.

Team-building, inclusion activities and cooperative learning should be a consistent part of our daily classroom structure. If students feel comfortable with one another in a safe learning community, they will take more learning risks, which leads to discussion on higher-level content.

Enjoy these two quick and novel cooperative learning structures that build the strong communication and relationship skills that our students will need for 21st-century success. An added bonus is these strategies also create a positive classroom learning environment:

Bounce cards

If your students struggle to get conversations started and maintain healthy communication pragmatics, try a "Total Participation Technique" called bounce cards. Bounce cards give students a purposeful way to contribute to and build a cooperative learning classroom environment.

Making it work:

  • Select a student with whom to practice modeling a conversation for the class to observe. Practice with that student before modeling this with the class.
  • Model the "inappropriate way" to hold a conversation. For example, demonstrate a conversation that ends quickly once both parties have shared their response, with no back-and-forth dialogue between the two parties. Discuss the importance of conversation skills that allow ideas to bounce from one person to the next.

Discuss the following three approaches to responding to peer's comments:

  • Bounce: Students take what their peers say and bounce an idea off it (or extend the idea).
  • Sum it up: Students rephrase what their peers say and comment on certain parts.
  • Inquire: Students ask a question regarding what their peers say.

Let's go into a little more detail with some examples.

Bounce: Take what your classmate(s) said and bounce an idea off it. For example, you can start your sentences with ...

  • "That reminds me of ..."
  • "I agree, because ..."
  • "True. Another example is when ..."
  • "That's a great point ..."

Sum it up: Rephrase what was just said in a shorter version. For example, you can start your sentences with ...

  • "I hear you saying that ..."
  • "So, if I understand you correctly ..."
  • "I like how you said ..."

Inquire: Understand what your classmates mean by asking them questions. For example, you can start your questions with ...

  • "Can you tell me more about that?"
  • "I'm not sure I understand ..."
  • "I see your point, but what about ..."
  • "Have you thought about ..."

Need a new strategy for cooperative learning that scaffolds for students who need support?

Communication gloves

Dig out those old pairs of garden gloves and put them to use in your classroom! Work gloves are the best type for this activity, but winter gloves will also suffice. This strategy is adapted from Mandy Neal's conferencing gloves.

On the fingers of a glove, write sentence starters for asking/responding to peers, such as "I agree with that because ...", "I agree and I want to add ..." and "What do you mean by that?" The goal is to provide supports for students who may need it to successfully contribute to a peer discussion. Differentiate this strategy by:

  • using questions only
  • incorporating vocabulary by writing one or two target words on the palm for the child to use
  • utilizing higher-order thinking such as "I can conclude that ..." or "I know that because ..."

They can also be content-specific, such as reading discussion gloves (retelling or summarizing a story) or math problem-solving gloves. By putting on gloves, students have an instant choice of the conversation they want to lead. To view a paper template for the gloves, click here.

Try one of these practical, low-prep strategies today. By building our students' communication and relationship-making skills, we place them on a road of lifetime success as global citizens. Be sure to explicitly model the strategies, practice and post visual supports as necessary.