Teaching conversation skills to middle and high school students can be a challenge. Part of the challenge is that today’s social skills are defined by texting, instant messaging, and social networking. Unfortunately this does not help our students develop the conversation skills necessary for successful interactions with peers OR in the academic or future workplace environment.
Of note, some of the visuals and activities in this post come from my conversation resources. They’ve gotten incredible reviews from many SLPs and are super easy to implement. For middle school students, click here to check it out.
Conversation skills are a consistent focus in my speech room. Here are some ideas to address common conversation goals:
1. Start with this video:
A great way to discuss the reciprocity or the “back and forth” nature of conversation is by watching the “Talking Twins” YouTube video. Although the babies do not use “words,” they do take turns in the conversation, show interest in what the other is “saying,” maintain eye contact and use clear body language.
I like to encourage students to infer what the babies might be saying based on what they observe in the video clip. You can download a copy of this Talking Babies Worksheet to use with your students!
2. The YES/NO game
This game helps students learn to expand their responses to questions beyond the habitual one word “yes” or“no.” Begin by asking one student to be “it”. The other students in the group ask questions. The student who is “it” is not allowed to answer only “yes” or “no” ; they need to give more information. If the student is unable to expand their response, the group can help with suggestions. Continue for however many turns you feel necessary, then another student takes a turn being “it”. Repeat this until each student has had a chance answering with expanded responses. To help students generate questions, you can download these sample conversation starter questions. For more starter questions, you can check out this resource in my Teachers Pay Teachers store: 100+ Conversation Starter Questions.
3. 20 questions
20 questions is where one person thinks of something… it could be a famous person, an animal, or even an inanimate object. The other students in the group have 20 questions to ask to try and decipher what it is.
4. Two truths, one lie
This is a great conversation game that helps students get to know one another better. Here you simply say three statements: one of them must be the truth, but two of them you can make up! The other students in the group try to determine which statement is which! The process of untangling the lie from the truths is a great opportunity to share what we know about people and how we make social inferences!
A word association game is a fun and fast paced way to connect ideas and keep the conversation flowing, and it’s super easy to do as well. Simply start with a word and then the other person must say the first thing they think of associated with that word. Play continues as each student in the group connects words to the last one spoken. It’s fun to continue the game for as long as you can go, then to see if anyone remembers the first word. Discuss how the group got to the last word!
6. The Chain Game
I love the ideas from Autism Teaching Strategies, including the Chain Game. Using girders and wrecking balls, students learn to connect to the topic as well as understand things that can ruin a conversation like interrupting or changing the topic too quickly! Great visuals!
7. Watch a video clip of people talking, but with the sound turned down.
Find specific points where non-verbal communication is being used and ask students what the speaker/listener is communicating. Here are a few videos that are perfect!
8. Use a talking stick!
To help address turn taking skills during conversation, I like to use a “talking stick”. I share that Native American tribes used a talking stick to make sure each person had a turn to share ideas. The person holding the stick had the right to speak, and everyone else was expected to listen with respect. When a person finished talking, the stick was passed to someone else.
I like to use my talking stick to work on turn taking and avoiding interruptions. When a student is finished speaking, he or she passes the stick to the next student. You might want students to pass the stick more than once so some of the shyer students have a second chance to share their thoughts, but don’t insist that a student talk if he or she doesn’t want to. Also, just because someone holds the talking stick does not mean they get to monopolize the conversation! I got my talking stick on Etsy for under $15, but any stick from a bamboo rod to a pencil ,would work fine!
9. Show turn taking with a balance meter.
We all have those students who hog the conversation. It’s important to teach the concept of a “balanced conversation”. A great visual for this is to use a balance scale. I usually grab one from my school science lab, or you could pick up one on Amazon.
I like to place a topic card at the base of the scale. You can give each student their own colored bead, and when they make a comment about the topic they put a bead on their side of the balance scale. You can count comments at your discretion; for students that talk excessively, ask the group to determine the number of beads.
I’ve done this activity with four students, having two sit across from the other two. This creates a sort-of “team” challenge, as each side tries to add just enough comments to balance the conversation. You can modify by using a dry-erase marker to write the topic in the middle of the table. Each conversational member can place their beads inside the circle.
Or use the balance activity in my Conversation resource in my TPT store:
10. Incorporate social media.
Do your students use social media, such as Twitter or Instagram? The Tweets and photos posted by people they follow can provide an opportunity to initiate conversation the next time they meet: “Hey, how was that skiing trip?”
How do you teach conversation skills to older students? What strategies work well for you? I’d LOVE to hear! Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading!