Communication Lessons from 2nd Grade

Every Friday I volunteer in my daughter’s 2nd grade class.

Usually, I get to spend some time helping the kiddos read. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s gratifying, and sometimes I grit my teeth and watch the clock tick.

Last week, I filed papers. A  mindless, yet helpful activity, that allowed me to listen to the teacher interact with the class.

The 2nd graders had just returned from a small reading exercise they had done with their kindergarten “buddies,” where they were supposed to have read the little ones a report they had written.

I assumed this activity was meant to be a reading exercise, but as I listened to the teachers’ lecture, I increasingly geeked-out.

The goal of the exercise, it seemed, was for the 2nd graders to practice not just their reporting on cheetah’s or snow boarders or sharks, but to practice capturing their audience.

As you can imagine, instead of being captivated by a 7-year-old’s reporting on penguins, the little ones started to buzz. It turns out that a classroom of kindergartners has an attention span of, well, 5-year old’s.

So, afterwards, the 2nd grade teacher was full of questions:

  1. How many of you kept the attention of your buddy?
  2. Did your buddy ask any questions of their own, and if not, why do think that was? Were they not paying attention? Why not? (Many kids had answers to this… my buddy said they were bored! My buddy said it was too noisy in here! My buddy said they weren’t interested in kittens! My buddy said they couldn’t understand my writing! My buddy said they were hungry!)
  3. How do you think you could have gotten your buddy re-interested in your report?
  4. What could you have done to MAKE your buddy interested in your report?

I almost fell off my tiny chair.

Could it be possible that we begin to learn persuasive and informative writing at such a young age?

If so, why is it that so much good information about the environment and green causes doesn’t keep the attention of the reader?

How can we incorporate this idea into environmental communications?

Let’s go back to the teachers list of questions…

How many of you kept the attention of your buddy?

This is something we should all be asking ourselves ALL THE TIME.

Are the people you’re talking to actually listening? And if they’re not, where did you lose them? Knowing exactly where your readers start to think about what’s for lunch is very valuable.

Examine your arguments. If you can’t compete with other distractions, they’ll move on to something else.

Did your buddy ask questions? And if not, why?

This is an excellent barometer of how engaged your audience is.

Questions, comments, discussions are all things that signify your audience is interested. The more excited someone is about a topic, the more they will engage.

If they’re not asking questions, figure out why. Is it simply too noisy in the lunch room? Is this a topic that doesn’t interest them? Are they distracted by something else? Is your approach boring?

Find out why you’re not getting the engagement you want, and fix it!

How could you have gotten your buddy re-interested?

This is a tough one. Once someone’s attention has wandered, it’s harder to bring them back than to get them the first time.

This is where you need to bring in a hook. Think of excellent email subject lines and how they entice you to either open or delete. Then, make it even better, since you’ve already proven to your readers that your stuff is worth deleting.

Try using hooks that bring up emotions that are hard to say no to: curiosity, guilt, pride, humor (one of my favorites…get someone to laugh, they’ll instantly re-focus on you), and you just might bring them back into the loop.

What could you have done to MAKE your buddy interested?

One of the best ways to get someone interested in something they’ve already told you they’re not interested in is to ask them a question.

Listen, if your listeners aren’t listening, it’s not their fault. It’s not hard to be entertained, engaged, passionate, in today’s world. If you come across something that doesn’t interest you, you simply move on to something that does.

But… everyone loves to give their opinion, share their own story, tell you what they think is important.

The best way to make someone interested in what you have to say? Listen to what they have to say first.

Look, I’m not saying that we all have the attention span of a 5-year old, but…

We really do. Let’s be honest.

Don’t give them that chance to wander off. Imagine your stories, your articles, your information materials in the hands of a child.

If it’s not interesting, they’re going to be asking how close it is to recess.


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