Monday, September 26, 2011

Guest Post: Skype in the primary grades: Jumping in with both feet

When my daughter was just six months old, I took her to a certified swimming instructor for lessons. She was, by more than her own months, the youngest student, and therefore, something of a celebrity among her pool peers. While many of the older children protested the practice of new skills like putting their face in the water and blowing bubbles, my daughter babbled with approval at every chance she had. You probably already know why – she was too young to be afraid – and that same advantage, as you also know, comes in handy in early elementary school. Using this absence of trepidation among K-2 youngsters, Skype can be an exciting ally for meeting basic, English proficiency standards.

Skype, the audio/video social networking platform well known and well utilized extensively in middle and high school grades is not as commonly used in the primary grades. Many justify its absence, as well as the absence of other web-based technologies, as being too advanced for the younger students. But there are some who embrace such tools for the same reason that infants are welcomed into instructional pools, which is really what any classroom is, isn’t it?

Borrowing from Indiana’s state standards, an opportunity to help very young, very shy, or for that matter, very much emerging students master basic essential skills appears ready made for Skype. With initiatives to promote distance learning, even the primary grades can become part of a virtual online school.

EL.2.7 LISTENING AND SPEAKING: Skills, Strategies, and Applications. Students listen critically and respond appropriately to oral communication. They speak in a manner that guides the listener to understand important ideas by using proper phrasing, pitch, and modulation (raising and lowering voice). Students deliver brief oral presentations about familiar experiences or interests that are organized around a point of view or thesis statement. Students use the same Standard English conventions for oral speech that they use in their writing.

Starting off in the shallow end, prepare students to talk about their favorite subject to other students. Prepare the class at this point for the culminating activity, a Skype interview with students in another classroom with the help of a collaborating teacher. I’d suggest having the interviews the following day. Cutting down on logistics and technical difficulties, I recommend a very nearby classroom where familiar faces could be seen at the time of speaking.

To support the students at first, model an introduction by sharing the information you’d like them to share. As you do so, have students practice their active listening skills at the same time.

“Hello, my name is _________. I have a big sister named Mary and a dog named Mitzi. I really like macaroni and cheese for supper and strawberry ice cream for dessert. When I grow up, I want to be a neuroendocrinologist.”

Of course, your requirements will be tailored to your own classroom needs and you may not want to grow up to be a neuroendocrinologist. As you model your own introduction, point out such traits as standing without fidgeting, speaking in a clear voice, and looking directly at your audience. Remember, this isn’t Toastmasters, so focus on the basics.

Once you’ve modeled the behavior, ask for volunteers to practice with you. When your experience suggests that the class is ready to move on to more challenging practice, have students group into small, when possible, even numbered member groups of four or six, and practice sharing introductions.

When both classroom teachers believe all is in readiness, hold your interviews in which members of one class begin sharing their introductions via Skype, a few at a time, followed by those of the other class.

Meeting this standard using technology in the classroom will bring more stimulation for the student and further add to their acceptance of technology. Most important of all, though, is that you, the teacher, may become just a bit more comfortable diving in to the use of social media in your own classroom.

About the author: Jesse Langley is professional writer and former school teacher. He lives in the Midwest and enjoys community volunteering.


  1. The best SKYPE experience we have is when the soldiers that we adopt over the holidays call to video chat with us as they open their care packages live and "in person" on the big screen in front of our students during lunch. I will never forget the look on that third grader's face when the soldier on our big screen from his computer in Iraq said, "This box was packed by Cannon. Is Cannon there?" He raised his hand and jumped up and down!!! You'd have thought he won the lottery. The power of this tool to engage and inspire students is unbelievable! Thanks for the post!

    The Corner On Character

  2. I enjoy reading your blog. I give your blog the "I Heart Your Blog" award.

    Lifelong Learning