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Career Readiness | Communication Skills | 21st Century Skills

How Do I Teach Workplace Communication Skills to My High School Students?

January 5th, 2022 | 13 min. read

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In the modern workplace, communication can make or break a career. High school students who develop strong communication skills early go on to nail that interview, negotiate that pay raise, or make a great case for that promotion. However, those who fail to communicate effectively often end up getting passed over--no matter how smart or skilled they are. 

As an instructor, you want to ensure your kids have the best chance at success in their careers, and communication is a key element in that. But teaching communication skills to students can be tricky. What are these workplace communication skills, and where do you begin when teaching them in your career readiness course?

Many high school teachers have approached AES asking these questions, and in response, we've developed a list of the different types of communication your kids will encounter every day in the workplace.

In this article, you'll discover a breakdown of the three different kinds of workplace communication and how you can teach them in a high school setting:

  • Verbal Communication
  • Non-Verbal Communication
  • Email Communication

By the end of this article, you'll have a better sense of each of how you can teach interpersonal skills and communication to your students. 

Workplace Communication Skills Breakdown: Verbal, Non-Verbal, & Email

Traditionally, workplace communication is made of verbal and non-verbal communication. However, with the rise of technology, email has also taken a central role in workplace communication, and will be one of the primary methods your high schoolers use to collaborate with coworkers day-to-day. 

What Is Verbal Communication?


Verbal communication is any conversation that takes place vocally.

While that primarily means face-to-face discussions, it could also include phone calls, video conferences, voicemails, and voice messaging.

The most important advantage of verbal communication is that speakers can use tone of voice to help convey the context of what they’re saying.

That context could be anything from sincerity to sarcasm — but either way, it's a major benefit that verbal communication has over non-verbal.

On the other hand, verbal communication is almost always temporary, which means it’s the responsibility of the listener and speaker to remember the discussion without any aid.

This isn’t true for voicemails or voice messaging, but it does apply to phone calls, video conferencing, and face-to-face conversations.

Because the latter three situations occur much more frequently than voicemails and voice messaging, it’s important to note that two people may have different interpretations of how a conversation actually goes.

These different interpretations — whether they’re accurate or not — can vary from mild misunderstandings to major miscommunications.

After all, with no central source of truth (like a written document or recording), any disagreements over a verbal conversation are up in the air when it comes to determining what was actually said and intended.

Fortunately, verbal communication isn’t the only method of conversing in a business setting.

In fact, non-verbal communication is becoming the preferred conversation and planning format for many companies, especially those involved in cutting-edge technology.

What Is Non-Verbal Communication?


Non-verbal communication is any form of discussion in which vocal tone doesn't play a part. 

This includes several forms of communication, like instant messaging, text messaging, note-writing, social media posts, letters, data analysis, and even email--though email is special for a few reasons. 

Oftentimes, non-verbal communication entails some form of writing, which gives it one major advantage over any other form of conversation: documentation.

Documentation provides that central source of truth for what someone said, when they said it, and how they said it. This helps provide a strong sense of clarity and can resolve conflicts much more effectively than verbal communication. 

However, it's important to note that non-verbal communication entails more than just writing. It also includes crucial social cues like eye contact, body language, gestures, and even physical touch! As a result, you have a lot more areas of opportunity to teach interpersonal skills when it comes to non-verbal communication.

Take social cues, for instance. These non-verbal gestures and visual accents help to complement verbal communication. After all, combining the right words and gestures at the right time can make all the difference between appearing selfish or helpful!

Context is everything in this case — and social cues help establish that context when used in conjunction with speech.

Still, there’s one form of specific non-verbal communication that merits more of a breakdown, and it’s become the single most important communication method in the working world: email. 

What Is Email Communication?


It's strange to think that email was once considered a quaint or informal way of conducting business. After all, these days you'd be hard-pressed to find a business that doesn't use it as a central pillar of their operations. 

The bottom line is that email is one of the most-used communication methods for companies today. Using it, you can direct projects, hold discussions, make decisions, and grow a business to new heights!

This is why it’s so important for students to know about email, how it works, and why it requires professional etiquette.

After all, emails are responsible for individuals taking action in a company. They’re the best way to make sure people stay in the loop on different ideas and projects. 

With the right email, someone can open themselves up to new opportunities that they never knew were possible. With the wrong email, they could truncate their career and end up looking for another job.

Email is taken seriously in the business world. It’s significantly different from text messaging, instant messaging, note-writing, and chat.

If a student goes into a job with the expectation that they can treat email like a messaging service, they’re starting off on a bad foot. To get them on the best start possible, it’s crucial that today’s educators teach email communication skills.

But that’s easier said than done, right? In fact, all of these communication skills can be tricky to teach. So how do you actually teach interpersonal skills and communication to high schoolers in the best way you can?

Teaching Communication Skills to Students


When it comes to teaching communication skills to students, you’ll find a lot of variety in terms of approach and methodology.

That’s because what workplace communication actually entails — like many soft skills — isn’t set in stone. Many states in the US have completely different standards when it comes to communication education in general.

However, that doesn't mean there aren't great teaching strategies out there. 

On the rest of this page, we’ll take an in-depth look into some of the most popular and successful online resources for teaching communication skills in high school. These resources provide excellent guidelines to help you think about how you’ll teach these skills.

How Do I Teach Verbal Communication Skills?


One effective method to teach verbal communication to students of any age: have them watch videos that demonstrate conversational skills.

For the videos themselves, you can use clips from popular movies that your high schoolers know, like The Avengers, or even popular YouTubers who work in groups, like The Slo Mo Guys. This may help engage them further by making each lesson focus on characters or people that your students love to watch. 

Regardless of what you choose to show, the goal is always the same. You want your students to demonstrate that they’re aware of what conversations look like along with positive communication traits and negative communication traits. This is essential if you want to effectively teach interpersonal skills to your kids. 

During the videos, you have students take notes that:

  • Summarize/paraphrase the dynamic between the speakers
  • Pull direct quotes from the conversation
  • Mark interesting responses or replies
  • Delve into the vocal tone of each speaker and how it affects the conversation

After the video is over and the students are done taking notes, you can ask them questions about key parts of the conversation: Why did the vocal tone of one speaker change at a certain point? How did the other speaker reply? How did it impact the conversation as a whole?

Asking these kinds of questions helps students engage with verbal communication in a way that’s relatable and fun — especially when compared to learning from a textbook.

How Do I Teach Non-Verbal Communication Skills?


Non-verbal communication skills are just as important as their verbal counterparts, and it's essential you use the best resources available to teach them to your high schoolers. 

Upbility, an education thought leader on speech therapy, offers several suggestions to help you get started with teaching social cues.

One of the most direct ways they recommend is through simple roleplaying. This is where you create conversational scenarios in which one student says something, another replies, and the rest of the class takes notes on what they observe.

For this roleplay scenario, it’s key that you highlight the subtle areas where social cues add emphasis to a conversation. These areas include:

  • Facial expressions
  • Body language
  • Gesturing
  • Eye contact
  • Personal touch
  • Personal space
  • Physical appearance

Have your students take notes, and after each exercise, you can ask the participants and observers to discuss what happened, why they interpreted a conversation a certain way, and how that interpretation could’ve changed based on non-verbal factors.

As for written communication, your options are surprisingly more limited than when dealing with social cues.

That’s because “writing skills” are an enormous category that includes career readiness, creative thinking, problem solving, and more.

However, there is an excellent resource provided by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), which is a branch of the US Department of Education. This thorough guide offered by IES details every step you can take to teach writing skills to teens and adolescents--perfect for high schoolers. 

We recommend downloading the guide yourself (it’s free) and following its information as closely as you can. There's a lot of good information in there!

How Do I Teach Email Communication Skills?


Email--simply put--is one of the most powerful and convenient tools for modern communication. That's why it's essential that high school students learn how to write emails effectively and intelligently before they enter the workforce.

This includes understanding the principles of business writing in general, like common questions and implied tone. It also requires students to practice writing emails of their own — especially emails that they send in response to others.

However, this is all easier said than done, and these concepts include a lot more information than they may seem at first.

But when you approach email communication with an effective teaching strategy--like the Four Phases-- you can take that complicated topic and make it understandable for students of any age.

One way to get your high schoolers thinking is to include an activity in which they need to decide if an email is formal or informal. This takes some prep up front, but it’s a great way to mix up your lesson.

Write 5-8 examples of both formal and informal emails and distribute them to your students. Pick students to read each email aloud, and then ask the class if they think it is formal or informal and why they believe so.

Depending how the activity goes, you may be able to start a class debate or discussion about which emails are appropriate for which setting. 

Once you're done with that part of the activity, have each of your students compose both a formal and informal email using school email accounts. This will be a great way to give them hands-on practice with effective email. 

Need More Lesson Plans to Help You Teach Communication Skills?

Workplace communication skills are essential for your high schoolers to learn. After all, soon enough they'll be joining the workforce full time, and if they find they can't communicate in a professional setting, they could end up falling behind--or worse. 

In this article, you've learned about the three main methods of workplace communication and strategies you can use to teach them in your high school course. If you use these strategies well, you'll be providing your kids a solid foundation for effective communication. 

However, these activities and strategies are just the beginning when it comes to teaching communication skills to students. If you need even more material to teach your students workplace collaboration and communication, check out the Business, Marketing, Finance, IT & Media Curriculum in our catalog. 


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