University of Leicester eBulletin

Bad Communication Skills Blamed on Television

March 2003
No 70

Research conducted by Dr Rosemary Sage, of the University of Leicester School of Education, reveals that the city’s children are growing up with poor communication skills, because they are spending too much time watching television so learning to process messages visually rather than verbally.

Studying the thinking, speaking, reading and writing skills of children over 20 years, Dr Sage found that having poor conversational skills is a major obstacle to making progress at school.

She tested children aged three and four at a primary school and commented: “If you gave them an object such as a cup or spoon none of them could make as many as three or four observations about it, which we would expect at that age.”

“Families used to gather together every evening and recount what they had done during the day. Children learned in that context how to put verbal ideas together in their minds. Today, children come home from school and sit in front of the TV processing largely picture information which does not engage children in thinking, speaking and reflecting.

From her research, Dr Sage has developed a teaching programme in thinking, speaking and writing skills, trialled at two Leicester primary schools and three secondary schools as well as schools in other parts of the country. Called The Communication Opportunity Group Scheme (COGS) the scheme teaches participants to develop their ideas clearly, with appropriate content that obeys the conventions with regard to conduct (manner of delivery). The scheme moves participants on from private talk, which is informal, into public talk which is formal. This ability in public talk is what enables children to shift from speaking into writing. The COGS teaches to the principle that people must be able to think and talk before writing and that written tasks must be at the level of their thinking and speaking abilities. In schools, children are often required to write beyond the level they can think and express in talk.

COGS involve 14 levels of learning covering primary, secondary and tertiary education communication demands. Participants are taught in small groups often of mixed age and ability. Initially games are played which are designed to get people thinking and communicating, then activities like reading a poem, talking on a set topic and role-playing are undertaken to develop aspects of spoken and written communicative behaviour.

‘COGS consists typically of a 45-minute session once a week for eight weeks, and it has already led to dramatic improvements in participants’ thinking, speaking and writing standards.

NOTE TO EDITORS:   Further information is available from Dr Rosemary Sage, University of Leicester School of Education, tel 0116 252 5786, fax 0116 252 3653, email

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