Communication Skills for Nurses: Engaging Activities to Use in Your Classroom

Communication Skills for Nurses: Engaging Activities to Use in Your Classroom

By Kimberly Hopkins MSN, RN
Nursing Instructor
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

One of the many foundational skills that I strive to pass on to future nursing students in one of my pre-nursing courses is effective communication. In this post, I want to share a few activities that I use to make the topic of communication skills for nurses as interactive as possible. How else can communication be taught if not interactively? The goal of these activities is to show students that there are many ways to communicate in nursing.

The first activity involves the following picture. Take a look at it and note what you think the drawing depicts.


Kimberly Hopkins 1

Do you see a mouse or an old man? When I display this optical illusion to students, I ask them to explain what they see and then debate over why the picture shows one image over the other. The goal is to help them understand that perception isn’t always objective, and that communicating a difference of perceptions isn’t always easy.

In the second activity, I divide the class into pairs, with one student acting as the patient and the other as the nursing assistant. The patients leave the room for a little while while the nursing assistants study the following image:

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When the patient returns, the nursing assistant’s job is to describe to the patient how to draw the picture without ever having seen it. The catch is that the patient isn’t allowed to ask any questions. Once everyone has had a chance to give it a try, I show them the correct image and let them discuss their results.

We then do variations of the same activity with different images. In one method, the patient is allowed to ask questions – but no hand gestures are allowed. In another, the nursing assistant is not allowed to give verbal directions, and must instead write the directions down while the patient is still outside of the room.

These activities provide students with a chance to realize that communication comes in many forms, and that these different forms can lead to different misunderstandings. The variation in which students are forced to use written directions, for example, often reveals that not everyone has the same understanding on how many sides to an octagon!

All in all, these activities to reinforce communication skills for nurses are great fun. They prepare future nurses for the workplace by helping them realize that communicating with their patients isn’t always as easy as as they might expect.

I Was Boring Myself


By Patricia Wessell
Nursing Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Terry Campus

The beginning

As I began instructing brand new nursing students, I found myself teaching to students with blank stares on their faces. Everything was new and foreign to them, even the words I used. I found myself using words to explain other words and it was obvious that I needed to find another way to help the students think through the content presented in class.

The Ah-ha moment

As first semester nursing students, they did not begin clinical rotations until halfway through the semester. Although they worked in the nursing lab to learn hands-on skills, it didn’t really prepare them to critically think when in the clinical setting. Having attempted case studies, gamification, and other classroom activities, I decided that I needed to bring the clinical setting to them.

The solution

I began my next lecture with the foundational information about oxygenation.  This time, however, instead of using a lot of words to describe breath sounds, I took the students to the simulation lab and utilized the manikin so that they could hear breath sounds and learn to distinguish them from each other.

I utilized scenarios, describing medical conditions that they would see in the hospital, to reinforce the sounds associated with each condition. The National League for Nursing states that simulation is a way to “facilitate high-quality experiences that foster thinking and clinical reasoning.”

The result

The students remained focused and interested. They had their Ah-ha moments! So next semester, I will start off with this plan from the beginning, as I believe it will reduce some of the student’s apprehension their first day in clinical.


National League for Nursing NLN Board of Governors. (2015). A Vision for Teaching with Simulation.

When Students Make Their Case (Study)

Case Study

By Adele Thaxton-Coy
Nursing Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Writing for the Journal of College Teaching and Learning, Karge, Phillips, Jessee, and McCabe (2011) report that “[w]hen students are active in their learning they are able to develop critical thinking skills, receive social support systems for the learning, and gain knowledge in an efficient way” (p. 53).

What facilitator would not want to assist their students in meeting these goals? Students need their facilitator to demonstrate the power and authority necessary to help them (1) adopt their goals (2) believe their goals are obtainable and (3) achieve their goals. However, the teaching and learning process is reciprocal and the facilitator must possess the qualities, knowledge, and determination necessary in order to gain positive results.

I will share a recent example of active learning that proved to be effective. It was the night before the last day of clinical, and my students had completed their goals for the semester. I had checked them off on mostly all of the skills they could complete under supervision and so the question became: What to do for their last day that will be challenging, educational, and fun?

I pondered over this for about a week because I did not want to do the same thing I had done in previous semesters. This particular group was certainly capable and up for a new challenge. So the night before the last day of clinical there I am at my desk pondering with a colleague and the idea of a case study comes to mind.

But what to do with it? I did not want to just give my group case studies to work on because that would be way too easy. Where would the challenge and fun be in that? Then I had my “aha” moment. Have the students create case studies!

To me, the idea sounded intriguing and stimulating. I was full of excitement and could not wait to start planning.

I had a group of eight students that I split up into two teams of four. Each team was assigned a patient from the clinical unit and their task was to complete a patient assessment, dig deep into the patient charts, and incorporate all necessary criteria requested into their case study.

One of the criteria was to create six questions for the other group to solve the case study. I had the groups decide what their objectives would be for the case study and gave them several hours to complete the process. I printed out two examples of case studies to give them an idea of what I was looking for with this assignment.

When time was up, I had each group give me a copy of their case study and the groups swapped cases with one another. The groups had 20 minutes to work on the case studies before we all reconvened as a group. I had each group present their answers and rationales,  and we discussed both cases in great detail. After each group presented, we then discussed whether the intended objectives of the case study creators were met. When I felt the need, I clarified and elaborated on additional information regarding the cases.

The students were very excited to share and discuss the cases. I was informed by all students in the group that it was a positive and rewarding experience for them that they really appreciated and enjoyed. They even used the word “fun”! All of the students in my group recommend that I continue doing this project on the last day of clinical, and with such positive outcomes, I must say I most certainly will.


Karge, B.D., Phillips, K.M., Jessee, T., & McCabe, M. (2011). Effective strategies for engaging adult learners. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 8(12). Retrieved from


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