Teaching and learning communication skills in social work education

Practice example 6: 'Social Work Challenge’, City College Norwich

'Social Work Challenge’ is a student-led learning day focusing on the key communications challenges to social workers across a range of settings. The session lasts for one day. Students are divided into small groups and asked to identify the challenges to social workers in communicating and engaging with a particular client group. As part of their challenge the students look at the skills necessary, the knowledge required and the techniques that are appropriate. Each group is assigned an agency or organisation that they visit in order to research, gather information and gain insights into what the issues for communication in that setting are. The agencies involved are:

The students decide within their groups who will take 'lead’ responsibility for investigating different aspects of the challenge as they emerge, and part of the task focuses on their working as a team to draw together their individual findings. Students are advised to use the library to conduct a literature search for background materials and are encouraged to use Internet resources and make contacts with various bodies that may be of help to them and their challenge. Typically students have contacted bodies such the Race Equality Centre, Disability Group and a Refugee Support Group.

As well as learning about the issues about communications in a range of settings, students also develop communication skills in the course of the challenge: they learn about working in groups, planning, researching, delegating, writing, engaging and negotiating.

Students consolidate their specific and general learning in presentations that they make to each other. Time is dedicated in the day to thinking about and planning their presentation that takes place the following week. Presentations address both specific issues about communications in the setting with which they have worked and general ones about their experience of communicating to meet the challenge. Students typically use videos, role plays, flip-charts and graphic materials in their presentations which, themselves, contribute to the specific communication skill of presenting in public.

The 'Social Work Challenge’ is part of a module in 'Communication and engagement’, which lasts for one term. The 'challenge’ takes place therefore within a wider context and links between them are actively made. Other sessions in the module include:

User participation in planning, delivery and evaluation

At People First the service users decide when and how they will use the students’ visit. The request for them to offer this opportunity is discussed in their team meeting. At the venues there is no user participation.

Other key stakeholder participation in planning, delivery and evaluation

As above, currently only the People First organisation plan, deliver and evaluate their own contribution.

Learning aims and outcomes

Assessment of learning

Assessment of the learning for this module is through an academic assignment undertaken by the students during their first placement. It is based on their first direct observation.

Integration between university and practice curricula

The assignment is used to help the students make direct links between the academic content of the module and the direct practice. The placement experience is also supported by one day a week in college during the placement, where relevant issues are explored and further links encouraged.


The students undertake a detailed evaluation exercise of the module at the end of the term. In the evaluation for the last three years it is interesting to note that a few students specifically mention this exercise in their feedback on 'Methods of teaching’, but the majority of the students do not. It happens at the beginning of the term.


There are two key texts for this course which the students are encouraged to purchase:

Thompson, N. (1996) People skills: A guide to effective practice in the human services, Basingstoke: Macmillan Press.

Williams, D. (1997) Communication skills in practice, London: Jessica Kingsley.

This is supplemented by a reading list of about 20-30 other texts which is updated annually, for example:

Aldridge, M. and Wood, J. (1998) Interviewing children: A guide for child care and forensic practitioners, Chichester: John Wiley. Beveridge, M., Conti-Ramsden, G. and Leudar, I. (1997) Language and communication with people with learning disabilities, London: Routledge. Bolton, G. (2001) Reflective practice: Writing and professional development, London: Paul Chapman Publishing. Bourg, W., Broderick, R., Flagor, R., Kelly, D., Ervin, D. and Butler, J. (1999) A child interviewer’s guidebook, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Brammer, L. and MacDonald, G. (1999) The helping relationship: Process and skills (7th edn), Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon. Brearley, J. (1995) Counselling and social work, Buckingham: Open University Press. Brill, N. (1998) Working with people: The helping process (6th edn), New York, NY: Longman. Bull, P. (2002) Communication under the microscope: The theory and practice of microanalysis, London: Routledge. Caldwell, P. (1996) Getting in touch: Ways of working with people with severe learning disabilities and extensive support needs, Brighton: Pavilion Publishing. Caldwell, P. and Houghton, M. (2000) You don’t know what it’s like: Finding ways of building relationships with people with severe learning disabilities, autistic spectrum disorder and other impairments, Brighton: Pavilion Publishing. Caldwell, P. and Stevens, P. (1998) Person to person: Establishing contact and communication with people with profound learning disabilities and those whose behaviour may be challenging, Brighton: Pavilion Publishing. Canter, D. and Alison, L. (eds) (1999) Interviewing and deception, Aldershot: Dartmouth Publishing Ltd. Csoti, M. (2000) People skills for young adults, London: Jessica Kingsley. Csoti, M. (2001) Social awareness skills for children, London: Jessica Kinsgley. Doherty-Sneddon, G. (2003) Children’s unspoken language, London: Jessica Kingsley. Drake, R. (1999) Understanding disability policies, Basingstoke: Macmillan. Egan, G. (2002) The skilled helper: A problem management and opportunity development approach to helping (7th edn), Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole. Ellin, J. (1994) Listening helpfully: How to develop your counselling skills, London: Souvenir Press. Ellis, R. (2002) Communication skills: Stepladders to success for the professional, Bristol: Intellect Books. Ellison, L. (2001) The adversarial process and the vulnerable witness, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Fine, S.F. and Glasser, P.H. (1996) The first helping interview: Engaging the client and building trust, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Goodwin, R. (1999) Personal relationships across cultures, London: Routledge. Gudykunst, W.B. and Ting-Tooney, S. (eds) (1996) Communication in personal relationships across cultures, London: Sage Publications. Hargie, O. (ed) (1997) Handbook of communication skills, London: Routledge. Hayes, J. (2002) Interpersonal skills at work, Hove: Routledge. Hewett, D. (ed) (1998) Challenging behaviour: Principles and practices, London: David Fulton Publishers. Hopkins, G. (1998) Plain English for social services, Lyme Regis: Russell House. Hough, M. (1998) Counselling skills and theory, London: Hodder and Stoughton. Hough, M. (2001) Groupwork skills and theory, London: Hodder and Stoughton. Kadushin, A. (1997) The social work interview: A guide for human service professionals (4th edn), New York, NY: Columbia University Press. Killick, J. and Allan, K. (2001) Communications and the care of people with dementia, Buckingham: Open University Press. Klein, M., Chen, D. and Haney, M. (2000) Promoting learning through active interaction: A guide to communication with young children who have multiple disabilities, Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes Publishing. Lindenfield, G. (2000) Managing anger (revised edn), London: Thorsons. Lishman, J. (1994) Communication in social work, Basingstoke: Macmillan. Livingstone, S. (1997) Dealing with anger (revised edn), St Alberta, Canada: S.L. Discovery Consulting Services Ltd. Madonik, B. (2001) I hear what you say, but what are you telling me? The strategic use of non-verbal communication in mediation, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Manthei, R. (1997) Counselling: The skills of finding solutions to problems, London: Routledge. Maple, F. (1998) Goal-focused interviewing, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Memon, A. and Bull, R. (eds) (1999) Handbook of the psychology of interviewing, Chichester: John Wiley. Miller, W. and Rollnick, S.(1991) Motivational interviewing, New York, NY: Guilford Press. Milne, R. and Bull, R. (1999) Investigative interviewing: Psychology and practice, Chichester: John Wiley and Sons. Morris, J. (2002) A lot to say!, London: Scope. Noon, J.M. (1999) Counselling and helping carers, Leicester: British Psychological Society. O’Rourke, L. (2002) For the record: Recording skills training manual, Lyme Regis: Russell House. Potter, C. and Whittaker, C. (2001) Enabling communication in children with autism, London: Jessica Kingsley. Prince, K. (1996) Boring records? Communication, speech and writing in social work, London: Jessica Kingsley. Seden, J. (1999) Counselling skills in social work practice, Buckingham: Open University Press. Sutton, C. (1994) Social work, community work and psychology, Leicester: British Psychological Society. Swift, T. and Robertson, I. (2000) Effective interviewing skills, Leicester: British Psychological Society. Taylor, B. (1995) Helping people change, Boston Spa: Oasis Publications. Thompson, N. (2003) Communication and language: A handbook of theory and practice, Basingstoke: Palgrave. Thompson, N., Bates, J. and Bevan, D. (1999) Stress matters: A personal guide, Birmingham: Pepar Publications. Weisberg, N. and Wilder, R. (eds) (2001) Expressive arts with elders: A resource (2nd edn), London: Jessica Kingsley. Williams, D. (1997) Communication skills in practice, London: Jessica Kingsley. Williams, D (2002) Writing skills in practice: A practical guide for health professionals, London: Jessica Kingsley. Wilson, C. and Powell, M. (2001) A guide to interviewing children: Essential skills for counsellors, police, lawyers and social workers, London: Routledge.

Further information available from Bridget Macdonald, c/o Flo Watson, City College Norwich (www.ccn.ac.uk).