Efficiency in Communication

Understanding communication choices

Color Is a Language (Zuhair Ahmad/flickr)

In this one-hour activity, students gain an understanding of the nature of human communication and foster a scientific view on languages. Through class activities, games, reading, and analysis, students will learn that speaking a language is only one way people communicate information. In order to make a language understandable among groups of people, a system of rules is necessary. Languages and words are not the same thing. Not all languages have a written form. Words have enormous influence on languages. Finally, a natural language is not static. It is developing all the time over time, space, and social factors. Explore the essential questions: What different methods have been used over time to communicate between humans? Why did our ancestors choose their voices as their primary method for communicating?

This lesson is a formative task that can be combined with others in this series to build what can be a two-week unit. This activity takes one standard class period, plus after-class reflection.

Essential Questions

  • What different methods have been used over time to communicate between humans?
  • Why did our ancestors choose their voices as their primary method for communicating?

Enduring Understandings

  • People use different ways to communicate information. Using vocal sounds (speaking a language) is the most efficient way.
  • "Efficiency" is the key to vocal communication. As divisions of work among our ancestors became more delineated, people needed fast and convenient ways to exchange ideas. Efficiency is powerful.
  • People generally prefer more efficient communication methods over more complicated ones. The advent of e-communication and the speed with which it has been adopted is a good example.

Resources and Materials


  1. Organize students into small groups. After reviewing the international maritime signal flags, morse code, and ASL, stage a competition: Who can say "I love you" in all three of these languages most quickly?
  2. Ask students to have a identify which languages took more time and which took less, and why.
  3. Offer students a historical perspective on division of languages with the video about the biblical story of the Tower of Babel.
  4. For discussion: In the story of the Tower of Babel, why does God disrupt the common language? 


Ask students to think about the following questions and be ready to discuss during the next class:

In your daily life, how many different languages do you hear? If more than one language, do they evoke different responses or feelings from you? 

This module is aligned to the four pillars of Global Competence. It helps students:

  • Investigate the World by
    • Synthesizing facts and ideas to develop a position on a cultural issue.
    • Enhancing and deepening the study of other subjects through knowledge of the target language and culture(s).
  • Recognize Perspectives by
    • Identifying similarities and differences between the target culture and one’s own culture by comparing practices, perspectives, and products.
    • Identifying regional differences by comparing cultural products and features of languages.
    • Comparing and contrasting the nature of the target language with one’s own through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
  • Communicate Ideas by
    • Analyzing, synthesizing, and presenting information in a way that recognizes and accommodates multiple perspectives.
  • Take Action by
    • Enriching the language learning experience by applying language skills in real-world contexts and scenarios.

Curriculum in this Series