Conversation Basics Part 3: On-Topic Target

This is the activity I use the most!

Once students can generate their own questions, take turns, and understand the concept of staying on-topic, I pull out my On-Topic Target.  As I use it frequently, I have it laminated and easily accessible on my whiteboard.  You can use anything to represent each student, but I use arrows to keep with the theme.  😉

I, with their input, assign a marker for each student.  Then the group decides on a topic of conversation and the length of time for the conversation.  Similar to the conversation tree, this allows discussion about what is an appropriate topic. Next I set the timer on my phone for the amount of time we think we can talk about the chosen topic (usually 1-2 minutes).  When we’re ready, I press the start button on the timer, I try to keep it out of the students’ line of sight because I don’t want it to be their focus.

The students arrow markers start in the middle of the target (“on-topic”).  As the conversation continues I monitor if they ever wander off-topic (yellow) or go way off-topic (red) and move their arrows in real-time.  It’s not bad to wander to yellow, because it’s natural in conversation, but it reminds them to get back to the main topic. It works wonders when they see the effect their comments make on the direction of the conversation!

When the timer goes off, we see where the arrows ended up.  Then we talk about what they did well and if there were ever any off-topic comments.  We also brainstorm what could’ve been said if there were any “awkward silences” during the conversation.  

And that’s it!  It’s super simple, takes only as much time as you want it to, and effectively teaches staying on-topic!  Like the conversation tree, it allows you to teach conversation skills without forming a simultaneous sub-conversation about the conversation!  The On-Topic Target is a bestseller in my TPT store.  (It will also be on sale for the TPT Cyber Sale this Monday/Tuesday!)  In addition to being colored-coded, it has a definition for each level right on the target.

As you can see, moving from my conversation graphic organizer to the conversation tree and finally the on-topic target provides less and less scaffolding as students become more and more independent in their conversation skills.  Thanks for reading and I hope this helps you with your kiddos!

Author Info

Danielle Nichols

A speech-language pathologist in Centennial, Colorado dedicated to helping kids and adolescents improve their social communication skills.

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