Communicating to middle schoolers isn’t easy. But communicating to middle schoolers in a digital environment? Well, that’s a totally different ballgame—one we’ve all had to get familiar with in a new way since 2020.
So, how do we make the most out of our digital teaching? How do we communicate successfully to middle schoolers in a digital environment? Here are just a few things I’ve observed incredible youth leaders do to successfully communicate with middle schoolers online.
Make it fun!
Online doesn’t have to be stale and simple. In fact, it can be really fun if you get creative. If you share a story about your favorite vacation or hobby, ask your students to change their background to reflect their favorite place to go or thing to do. Ask students to drop six emojis in a row to describe their week. Play games that engage students in their homes and online. Invite students to share a song for your playlist that week. Whatever you can do to engage them in a fun way in your digital environment, start there!
Keep the talk active.
We all know middle schoolers are incredibly prone to distraction. This is even more true when they’re gathering with you in a digital environment. So, to encourage them to stay engaged, keep your talk active. Just because you’re communicating on screen doesn’t mean any of you have to stay in your seats the whole time. Experiment with ways you can stand up or move around during your message. Then, think about how you can give students a chance to do the same!
Build in breathing room.
Pauses are key for an online message in particular. You want to build in breathing room for students to stop and process or do something in response. So, think about where you can build those things in as you prepare. Can you give students a chance to share their own thoughts in your message? Can you pause for prayer or a worship song somewhere along the way? Can you give students a prompt to respond to by raising their hands, standing up, or even submitting an answer in the chat? Build in space for them to breathe, reset, or engage in a new way before continuing.
We incorporate interactive elements to enhance our teaching in-person, so why not do the same in a digital environment? Use props, share movie clips, ask students to look something up or find something in their home. Get creative with how you can translate your on-stage interactives to a digital space.
Focus on the time.
Shorter messages tend to work better in a digital space. 15-20 minutes of someone talking at them just isn’t going to keep your online students engaged in the message. So, edit yourself down for a digital space. Shorten your examples, find brief ways to make your points, share fewer stories, etc. Whatever that looks like for you, be aware of the time and shorten your message to meet it!
Don’t skip small group!
If you’re sharing your message in an online space, be sure you’re offering students the space to process it online as well. Don’t skip out on small groups if you’re meeting online. Find a way for small groups to meet in breakout rooms on your video platform, ask your leaders to set up separate meeting times online, or create an online-only small group for students to pop into each week. Part of communicating successfully to students in any space is making sure they have time to process it. So, don’t skip small groups here!
It isn’t always easy or ideal to shift to communicating online. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it! If your heart is to reach students where they are (and I know it is!), then that means reaching them in a digital space. While it changes the way you prepare, deliver, and lead through your message, that shift will pay off when you find middle schoolers’ lives are changing thanks to your efforts to meet them in the digital space.
If you want to learn more about how to communicate to middle schoolers check out Communicating to Middle Schoolers: A Guide to Developing and Delivering Messages That Stick.