Focus on Five: Teaching Conversation Skills

Teaching conversation skills is an important life skill that helps students learn to communicate and build social relationships. We often forget that we indirectly learned conversation skills growing up, however, our students need direct instruction on initiating and maintaining conversations in order to develop and generalize these important social skills. Here are five things I do when teaching conversation skills in the classroom…

1. Start with a Rubric or Framework

I recently worked with my student teacher to create a social studies unit on teaching conversation skills and we started with a conversation frame and from there, created a rubric. Having a rubric of the expectations for a student is really helpful because it not only provides us with a way to evaluate each students’ skills before and after the unit, but it also helps us to break down the skills needed to teach students to have a complete conversation. When I taught in the general education classroom, we were studying Marzano’s Classroom Instruction That Works and I implemented the conversation frame when we read “Best Wishes, Ed” from our basal reader.  If you would like example rubrics or implement an already created rubric, check out The Autism Helper’s Social Skills Rubrics.

2. Create Lessons

When starting with the rubric or framework,  you can break down each part of the conversation into individual skills. My student teacher created lessons about different greetings and closings to conversations, using one of the work tasks in the Communication Based Work Task Mega Pack, which was a great way to teach students multiple examples of greetings and closings. To teach students how to ask and answer social questions, we would first model asking a question to each student in the class. After students demonstrated an understanding of answering the questions, we would have students taking turns asking all the other students in the class a social question. Depending on the student’s level, we might provide the question or let the student choose which question they wanted to ask.   We created a Jam Board with visuals to help students to remember and then share what another student had liked. After practicing answering questions, we focused on commenting by having the student to ask the question and say a comment after another student gave an answer.

3. Gather Materials

There are a lot of great materials and resources to help provide direct instruction on social skills to students. We introduced conversation skills by reading “Best Wishes, Ed” from the book Winston, Newton, Elton and Ed. We also used some YouTube videos that featured students having conversations. The Reciprocal Conversations video on YouTube was a great way for students to watch other children their age having a conversation.   Some other resources we used from The Autism Helper, including Communication Skills Adapted Books, Social Interactions Task Cards and Conversation Starters for Special Education. We also created some of our own questions based on high-interest topics for students.

4. Get Familiar with Students’ AAC

While teachers are used to having students use communication devices throughout the day, it may be a good idea to familiarize yourself with different sections of your students’ devices. This will help practice sessions run smoothly and better match the speed of a natural conversation.  With the Touch Chat, familiarizing myself with the social section was especially helpful because students primarily use their devices for answering academic questions and expressing their wants and needs during class time. It is also important to familiarize yourself with the question words section, since students will be one ones asking questions. Often, students are used to answering questions with their devices, so it’s important for them to be able to use their devices to ask questions as well. As always, enlisting the help of your speech pathologist is always a great idea.

5. Practice

After giving lessons, it is important to model and practice these skills. Having another adult (paraprofessional, speech pathologist)  to prompt while students are practicing with the teacher or another student  is helpful in developing these skills.  Having multiple practice opportunities is highly beneficial for students, especially when you are putting all of the previously learned conversation skills (greeting, asking questions, commenting and closing) together for the first time.  We incorporated a park unit with conversation skills. We  talked about meeting at a park, activities to do at the park (including having conversations with friends) and created a park scene to make practicing conversations more fun and interesting.

I hope this gives you some ideas and resources for teaching conversation skills in your classroom.  For more on conversations, check out Teaching Conversation Skills, Providing Reinforcement for Conversation Skills and Let’s Talk Conversation Starters.  Stay healthy and safe!

Holly Bueb
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