Your elbows deep into an awesome STEM lesson and you hear it. The beginning of an argument start to emerge from one of your students across the room. They’re frustrated because their group wants to build with Popsicle sticks and they wanted to use straws. You get up to go help them and you see materials start flying and voices getting louder. What do you do?

We’ve all been there at one point or other. There is always going to be a student who struggles to express themselves or gets frustrated with something that they are trying to do. It is our job to prepare students to be ready for anything task that we ask them. Here’s why you need to teach communication skills before doing your next STEM activity.


What behaviors do students show when they don’t know how to communicate yet?

After our first STEM activity of the year, I realized that my students did not have the skills needed to work in small groups. I had witnessed negative behaviors when frustration set in for my students. Behaviors like screaming at teammates, crying and breaking the project when it wouldn’t work, and throwing materials at the other students in their group when there was a disagreement. I knew before my next STEM lesson, I’d have teach “how to communicate while working together”.


How do I introduce collaboration successfully?

I made up a list of things that I needed my students to do. In each case, my students needed to learn how to talk with each other and share their ideas.


We discuss that everyone within a group comes with different strengths. While *Johnny* is good at building, we know that *Josie* is good at writing and drawing. When students know that they each bring a special quality to the group, they try harder!

share ideas

We talk about what being a “good listener” is. As a class, we practice that eyes are on the speaker, your body is turned towards them, and you are not making extra noises to distract. So students had to display this while listening to their group member’s ideas.


Students need to be respectful of one another. If they disagree on an idea, then they need to discuss it as a group and come up with a solution. Students should encourage others when they have an idea and decide if they can use it while working on the activity.


When students are sharing their ideas, they can feel vulnerable or rejected depending on how their group reacts. Encourage students to talk about their ideas and walk them through creating where they should go next. This is one of the hardest steps in STEM.

Most of my students struggle to communicate how they are truly feeling and what they want to create. Standing by in this process is a great way to help develop this skill in your students.


If you’re looking for how to end arguing, come back next week to learn about how I handle these conflicts.

Does your class need some more communication development? Click the Intro to STEM cover to be taken to my TPT store.

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