Social language skills are as important, if not more important than the academic language we expose our students to each day. Pragmatic language skills encompass our ability to initiate and sustain conversation, to read body language, to appreciate humor, and to understand different points of view. We must take the listener’s knowledge into account before initiating a conversation. Children with age-appropriate vocabulary and grammar may not have the social language skills necessary for sustaining friendships and being successful in academic areas.
Students in my 5th-7th grade classes are learning about social language use through the political process. We are watching excerpts from the recent presidential debates and determining what social language skills are being viewed. This has led to some informative discussions among the students. I was most impressed when several students noticed when a candidate’s body language did not match their verbal language. They also observed that the candidates do not take turns appropriately and change topics too quickly before closure can be reached. Additionally, the candidates do not ask for information to be clarified and do not answer questions appropriately.
After much thought-filled discussion, the students agreed on the importance of using good social language skills, and made commitments to make changes in their own language style. We took a secret ballot to determine if the candidate we thought had the best social language skills would become the next President. We will have to wait until November 2016 to see if we were correct.
Dazlyn, a fifth grade student put it best: “Miss Costigan, I think you should be the next president. At least you would not have to work as hard as you do now!”
I will have to give that some thought, Dazlyn.