Conversation skills staying on topic

In this activity, students will practice important conversation skills of staying on topic, or talking about the same topic back and forth with a partner without derailing the conversation.

Do you know anyone who only listens to hear if you’ve stopped talking so that he can start talking about his own interests?

I have someone in my life like that. We’ll call him Robert.

As soon as Robert doesn’t hear any more sounds coming from my mouth, he’ll start talking about a totally new topic that has nothing to do with what I was just saying. When I call him on it, he says, “Oh, I thought you were done.”not listening

Listening to understand and make the other person feel heard and valued is an important communication skill. One that Robert doesn’t have, and that we want to make sure we’re teaching our students.

To have a successful conversation, it’s important for both partners to stay on topic. Sometimes we’re not interested in the topic, but being a good friend means talking about things our friend likes sometimes.

In this game, students will choose a topic card and proceed to carry on a conversation about the topic. Each time a partner responds on topic, he’ll put down a letter card with the goal of spelling out the word “Communication.” If a partner responds with a non-sequitur, they’ll get a stop card, interrupting the spelling of the word. The goal of the game is staying on topic as long as possible.

Pre-Discussion

  • Do you and your friends have all the same likes and dislikes?
  • How do you decide what to talk about with a friend?
  • Have you ever had to talk to someone about something you weren’t interested in? How did that feel?

Activity Directions

  1. Student #1 will choose a topic card from the pile and start the conversation by saying something about that topic. For example, if the topic 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 color in the first stripe on the lemur’s tail.
  2. 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.”
  3. If their reply is on-topic, like the example above, student #2 will color the next stripe on the lemur’s tail.
  4. If the reply is not on-topic, the teacher should put down a Principal Wild “stop” card. For example, if the student says something like “My favorite subject in school is math.”

The goal is to color all the stripes on the lemur’s tail by talking back and forth about the same topic, without getting any “stops” in the conversation.

Tip: Place the lemur sheet into a plastic sleeve and have students color the tail with dry erase markers so they can erase and repeat the activity.

Post-Discussion

Once you’ve played a few rounds of the conversation activity, bring the group back together for a discussion.

  • How many times did “Principal Wild” have to stop you because you got off topic?
  • Were there any topics that were hard to focus on for you?
  • What were some strategies you used to stay on topic?

Bring students around to the idea that to have successful conversations, we sometimes have to talk about things that don’t interest us personally. Listening to friends and taking turns in the conversations helps our friends know we care.

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