Staying on Topic Activity for Elementary School Students

An important piece of healthy and respectful relationships is communication. In conversation, this includes intent and active listening, asking and answering relevant questions, and keeping focused on the topic. This can be a challenge for students whose communication skills are still developing. They may feel disconnected or disinterested in the topic, become distracted, or try to interrupt with off-point ideas. While this is somewhat expected at a young age, it can be problematic as relationships grow and deepen.

We’ve created this engaging “staying on topic” lesson and differentiated partner game to help students become focused conversation keepers!

Staying on Topic Pin

Recommended Grade Level: Elementary and Middle School

SEL Skill(s): Communication

Duration: 30 minutes


Staying on Topic Lesson Instructions

Prompt: Ask students if they’ve ever started talking with someone and before they know it the conversation is about something else completely or maybe they’ve even forgotten what they wanted to say in the first place.

Say: Part of being a good friend is being able to keep a conversation about something on topic. 

Ask how students would feel if they really wanted to tell a friend about a new toy, but the friend interrupted or started talking about something else.

Practice: Show students the Conversation Keepers poster, explaining that these phrases are good ways to keep a conversation going by commenting or asking more. Read the phrases together.       

Say:Let’s practice using them.(call on a student to model with you)

Ask the student to tell you about their dream meal. As they describe it, model using the Conversation Keepers, saying (in an order that makes sense):

  • Wow! Tell me more about that dish…
  • Who makes that for you?
  • I’m surprised you didn’t say…
  • I learned that you like…

If time allows, call up an additional 2 students to model and practice the process.

Play: Just like staying on topic can be tricky in real-life school, it’s challenging for the characters in our game Zoo U, too as they are monitored by school leader, Principal Wild. In this fun game, we’ve brought Principal Wild and Lyla Lemur along for the fun as students practice remaining on topic together. 

You will need to print 1 mat and playing cards for each pair of students. There are differentiated playing cards as well. Level 1 has the Conversation Keeper prompts included, and Level 2 challenges students to remember them on their own. Each level provides two sets of game cards for play.

The directions are printed on the Focus Mat. Review them with students before they jump in to play.

Follow Up: After students have played, bring the group back together for a discussion. Ask:

  • Were there any moments when staying on topic was challenging? 
  • Which Conversation Keepers worked best for you?

Remind students that an important part of being a good friend and communicator is being able to carry on a focussed conversation!

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