Communication skills

Advice on how to create an interesting and informative talk for school children, and some pitfalls to avoid.

Whether you are talking to pupils on your own farm, or going into a school, you need to prepare carefully to ensure a successful outcome. One way to start is to use the CIA approach:

Using the CIA approach


Why are you giving a talk? Make sure the teacher gives you clear instructions about the purpose of the talk. What topic are you talking about? Find out how the topic fits into the class scheme of work. Who are you talking to? What is the age and ability of the pupils? How much knowledge they
already have? You can ask for all this information when the teacher makes a pre-visit to the farm.


You will know what you want to say, but you will need to think about how you are going to say it. Pupils will need to understand if they are to remain interested. Do not overload the children with too much information and too many ideas. Draw up a list of key words to prompt you, and use examples to bring the ideas to life.


Think out the questions you wish to ask the pupils and when you are going to ask them. You may feel it is best to leave all questions to the end so that you are not distracted from your talk, or you may use simple questions in order to gauge whether the pupils are understanding and also to keep their attention. If you are going to use props or ask pupils to help you, you should discuss this with the teacher before the session. Remember there are issues of health and safety to consider with some farm implements.

If there is to be a question and answer session at the end, do not necessarily expect questions on
what you have talked about! Children will ask anything about you and your talk, however vague the connection. Keep answers brief and amusing.

Preparing what to say

How to begin

Although the children will have been told who you are, it is worth stating clearly at the beginning your name and a little background information. If you are talking to pupils making a farm visit, then give them some ground rules on health and safety and discipline. Do not labour these points, simply state them in an authoritative manner which assumes that no one is going to step out of line. Remember the teacher is responsible for the discipline of the group.

The art of explaining

Much of your talk to pupils will be explaining what you do in your everyday life. You will be using material with which you are very familiar and know a great deal about. But be warned, in order to interest children and hold their attention, your explanation should:

  • Contain only information that is really necessary
  • Be built upon knowledge that the pupils already possess
  • Be tailored to the intended audience, even if it means missing out what an expert on the subject, like yourself, might call important detail
  • Be presented persuasively and patiently

Pointers towards success

The LEAF Speak Out toolkit is helpful for this section.

Start from the pupils' existing knowledge and experience. Comparisons can be useful - compare ear tags with earrings, animals' diet with childrens\' diet, manure with recycling, vet visit with a
visit to the doctor.

Simplify - only include vital information. Facts and figures are often useful.

Focus - make each sentence important. To focus attention you can use:

  • emphasis
  • gesture
  • repetition
  • silence before and after key points

Key phrases - can you boil down what you want to say into a simple sentence or key phrase?

Questions - if you are talking to a small group, use questions to check whether the point you are making has sunk in.

Lists - explanations can often be summarised as a list that is easier to take in than long sentences.

Chain of reasoning - use a chain of statements to explain a process that takes place on the farm.

Props - they gain attention, engage pupils in an active way, add variety and help pupils remember what you have talked about. Objects have far more impact than words or pictures, especially if they can be handled. But please ensure that products are clean as far as possible and chemical
free eg avoid treated seed grain.If going into a school, check before your visit that you can bring the props you have in mind into the school.

Resources you could use:

  • pictures and posters
  • samples of crops
  • samples of animal feed
  • fleece, socks, jumper
  • machinery parts - old and new
  • tools
  • ear tags, cattle passport, own passport, other paperwork
  • any home-grown produce (not to be sampled) - butter, honey, eggs, vegetables
  • a live animal? [check carefully]

Practising your technique

Practise your talk, ideally with an audience. Ask them to help rate your performance:

  • Do you avoid repeating phrases such as 'OK?' or 'All right'?
  • Do you make your voice sound lively?
  • Do you pause between different ideas?
  • Do you use eye contact and body pointing?
  • Do you use straightforward words in short sentences?
  • Do you use humour and human interest?
  • Do you appeal to the pupils\' curiosity with your style of language?
  • Do you stand close to the pupils and move your position occasionally?
  • Is your voice loud enough?
  • Do you talk slowly and clearly enough?

Barriers to communication

What pitfalls should you try to avoid?

Inappropriate level of knowledge How old are the children? What do they know already? What topic are they studying? What type of group are you talking to?

Difficult vocabulary and use of language. Whether you are used to talking to young people or not, your vocabulary will be much larger than theirs. Use words that are in everyday use with simple sentence constructions.For example, say 'go' not 'proceed' and 'shows' not 'indicates'.

Jargon Technical words may be part of your everyday conversation. Make sure you are communicating with the pupils using vocabulary they understand.

Distracting environmental factors If not on your premises, check that the talk will take place in a suitable location. Is it in a noisy room full of distractions? If you are giving an assembly talk, find out the size of the hall and how many children you will be talking to. Will all the pupils be able to see you easily if you are showing them props? Avoid invitations to talk in lessons just before lunch or on a Friday afternoon when pupils tend to be hungry, tired, or restless.

Talking for too long Make sure you find out exactly how long you are expected to talk for. Most people talk at about 100 to 200 words per minute. At that rate, a one-hour lecture could contain up to 12,000 words - or a short book! The LEAF Speak Out material gives helpful practical ideas for this section. Do not be persuaded to give a longer talk than is necessary. Time your talk carefully, leaving plenty of time at the end for questions, especially if you are talking to primary school children. It is better to finish a few minutes early than to go over the time given.

Short concentration span The concentration span of some pupils while they listen to the teacher is less than five minutes. Sixth-formers concentrate for about 15-20 minutes at a time. If they (older children) are taking notes, beware: 'A lecture is an event where information passes
from the notes of the lecturer into the notes of the student, without passing
through either of their brains'.
Make your talk short and snappy!