Staying on Topic Activity

An important piece of healthy and respectful relationships is communication, and in conversation, this includes active listening, asking and answering relevant questions, and staying on 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

Recommended Grade Level: Elementary and Middle School

SEL Skill(s): Communication

Duration: 30 minutes


  • Conversation Keepers Poster and Topic Cards (Available when logged in to your Centervention educator account)

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 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.

Model: 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.

Ask the student to tell you about their favorite 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.


  • Have students pair up, and provide each group with a stack of topic cards and one Principal Wild “Stop” card for each student.
  • Student #1 will choose a card from the pile and start the conversation. For example, if the card is sports, they might say, “My family and I went to a basketball game once. It was fun cheering for the team.” They will then write a “1” on the topic card.
  • Student #2 should reply by responding to Student #1, or saying something else about the topic. For example, “I’ve never been to a basketball game, but I have been to a baseball game. My brother is on the team.” If their reply is on-topic, like the example above, student #2 write “2” on the topic card.
  • If a reply is not on-topic, the student should put down a Principal Wild “stop” card. For example, if the student says something like “My favorite subject in school is math.” And the pair will then move on to a new topic card.
  • The goal is to go back-and-forth on each topic as many times as you can.

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

  • 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 focused conversation!

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