Teaching Balanced & Reciprocal Conversation Skills

Through conversation we learn about each other, we show interest, share laughs, and develop empathy.


It is NOT enough for our students to just be able to request what they want, listen to directions, and respond to direct questions. 

Everyone deserves that exciting feeling that happens when your interest is piqued and you intrinsically want to know more and share more.

Of course even a "basic" conversation is comprised of several different skills that need to taught. Learners have to take turns speaking, stay on topic with each other, show attentive body language, and use attentive listening skills.

Unfortunately. what often happens when teaching these skills is a very stilted, rote, prompt heavy, series of exchanges. And that's OK at first but we need to quickly move out of that because prompts-especially verbal prompts-can be HARD to fade.

One way to help fade prompts is to use a visual. I designed these Conversation Trees specifically to a) help reduce verbal prompting b) pair a motor component to the conversation and c) to remind students that a conversation is a growing thing where you have a mix of questions, answers and comments.

Each pair of students picks a tree and 2 different leaves or fruit icons. One icon will represent a question and the other will represent a comment. The idea is that the tree will have a mix of both comments and questions. Some of the trees already have

a "C" and "?" labeled as an extra reminder.

Have one of your students start with an initial question and put an icon on the tree. 

If you notice that your students are doing more of a list of information like this:

 Student A:"I like cookies."

 Student B: "I like ice-cream." 

 Student A: "I like bananas" etc. 

Point to the icon that represents the question to cue them to mix it up. 

Conversely you may notice your students are conducting an interview rather than conversing. It can look this:

Student A: "Do you have a pet?"

Student B: "Yes."

Student A: "Do you have a brother?"

Student B: "No."

Once your students get the hang of weaving both questions and comments to the conversation, remove this visual or just use a few of the icons and see if they can keep up their flow. 

Just always remember big picture. Why are teaching this skill? What is the overall main point? It's not about checking off skills or mastering an IEP goal. 


It's to ensure that your students have skills that enable them to establish meaningful, reciprocal, positive relationships.

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Related Articles:

3 Games for Kids to Discover Shared Interests

Beyond Think it or Say it


Categories: conversation skills

 I'm a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and former Special Education Teacher dedicated to teaching kids the 21st Century Social Skills they need to live happier, healthier lives

Diana Cortese
Founder, Teach Social Skills