Welcome to my new blog series on conversation basics! Today I will be sharing how I teach conversational turns for students with moderate special needs using my conversation graphic organizer. The next two posts will show how I reduce scaffolding while targeting conversational turns and staying on topic for students with higher verbal skills.
First, teaching conversational turns is challenging. I started by using pipe cleaners in the shape of question marks and exclamation points, having students alternate asking and answering questions as they put the respective pipe cleaners in a box. However, it did not provide enough structure, and there’s no point in taking conversational turns if the students have no idea what to say on their turns!
Thus, I created a conversation graphic organizer. There are two people, represented by orange (person #1) and blue (person #2) smiley faces. When introducing this system, I am usually the orange smiley faces to model how it works. The core of the organizer is one person asks a question, another responds, and the original speaker either makes a comment or asks a follow-up question.
To help kids with the content of the conversation, I have examples of questions they can ask as represented by images.
For example, the following conversation would look like this:
For students who need more help but can read independently, I write out the questions word for word on blank bubbles, such as “What did you do today?” or “Who did you play with?” Similarly, I will write out follow-up comments such as, “Cool,” “Sounds like fun,” and “Interesting.” The second person must still come up with an answer independently or with verbal prompts. Once students get the hang of it, I take away the word-for-word options but still have a key on hand for using the images.
(If person #1 makes a follow-up comment instead of a question, I cover the optional response from person #2 with my hand, as seen above.)
I have found this graphic organizer really helps my students with moderate special needs generate questions and answers while taking conversational turns. It may take a few sessions to learn the system, but soon we make it the first thing we do before moving on to other activities. This provides consistent, structured practice to prepare them for conversing independently with peers.
My conversation graphic organizer is currently available for $2 in my TeachersPayTeachers store! Stay tuned for my next post as we reduce scaffolding and add more people to a conversation.