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HOW TO TEACH STUDENTS TO MAKE COMMENTS DURING CONVERSATIONS

 

Many students with special needs struggle to engage in conversations.  Why?  Well, there could be many reasons related to each child’s specific set of challenges and abilities.  But the biggest reason, in my mind, is the number of skills needed, to successfully engage in a conversation.

There are literally dozens of skills needed.  On top of that, these skills change based on the type of conversation, the number of people involved, etc.

Oy! 

 

Is it any wonder that engaging in conversations is challenging for our kiddos!

In my blog post, Teaching Conversational Skills To Special Education Students, you can learn about how and why to teach conversational skills to your special students.  You can also sign up to join us in The Teacher’s Lounge and grab a great Freebie: Conversation Poster and Tips & Tricks to engaging in a conversation.

Something I spend a lot of time on with my students is, Responding To Others in a conversation.  After all, responding, is what makes a conversation a conversation.  Without the back and forth exchange, you have a lecture or a dialogue, not a conversation.

But how many times have you watched a group of your students talking…but no one is listening to the other, no one is responding to the other, and no one even seems to notice.

Ugh!

Today I’d like to talk to you about the important conversational skill of responding to others, specifically through the mode of Making Comments. Making comments is something that is necessary to do while taking turns talking and to keep a conversation going. To read more about taking turns in a conversation {including questions and comments} Click Here.  You can also sign up to join us in The Teacher’s Lounge and grab a great Freebie: A Thumbs Up Conversation.

My students will tell you that I usually make a big deal about the importance of asking questions during a conversation…but I may have underestimated the importance of making comments!

Asking Questions often shows the conversational partner that you are interested in them/what they have to say, however, questions are basically egocentric in nature because they are expressing information that the person wants to know.  It’s often more about them, than their partner.  *Unless the individual is strictly asking questions to be polite, a higher level skill.

Making Comments, on the other hand, requires some empathy, perspective taking and focus on the other person.  Good commenting is ultimately more about the other person than yourself.  It serves the purpose of making the other person feel good, heard, understood, cared about or interested in.

 

How To Teach And Support Students In Making {more and better} Comments

1. Explicit Teaching

2. Practice

Sound easy?  It’s not.  But it can be fun.

To teach and practice commenting, students first need to understand what commenting is.  If you ask your student what a comment is, they will probably give you an answer like, “It’s saying something to someone” or, “It’s the opposite of a question.”

Well, yes…but there’s more to it.

Comments:

  • Make the other person feel good
  • Extend the conversation
  • Are about the other person
  • Use details to highlight the point being made
  • Demonstrate listening and comprehension

 

Here Are Some Fun Ways To Teach And Practice Making Comments

  

1. Tell A Story

For this fun activity the students are instructed that they can only make comments during the exchange.  It is helpful to go over the difference between questions and comments before doing this activity.

Next, the teacher tells a brief story, slowly, one or two sentences at a time.  Allow a bit of extra time in between thoughts, for the students to come up with good comments. This game is a lot of fun.  My students love it.

It might look like this:

  • Teacher:  “Last night I had a birthday party! I had so much fun!”
  • Student: “Wow, happy birthday.”
  • Teacher: “Thanks!  I had a big chocolate cake.”
  • Student: “That sounds great!”
  • Teacher: “It was, I had two big pieces and then another one for breakfast this morning.”
  • Student: “You are so lucky to be able to have cake for breakfast.”

Once your students get good at this, make it more challenging by mixing up the story from positive to negative situations {which require more skill to focus and make an appropriate comment}.

It might look like this:

  • Teacher:  “Last night I had a birthday party! I had so much fun!”
  • Student: “Wow, happy birthday.”
  • Teacher: “Thanks.  I had a big chocolate cake.”
  • Student: “That sounds great!”
  • Teacher: “It was, I had two big pieces and then another one for breakfast this morning.”
  • Student: “You are so lucky to be able to have cake for breakfast.”
  • Teacher: “But I got really sick after eating so much cake.”
  • Student: “I’m sorry, that stinks.”
  • Teacher: “Thanks. I don’t think I’ll ever eat chocolate cake again!”
  • Student: “I can understand that. Maybe you will be able to eat vanilla cake.”
  • Teacher: “Great idea! Or maybe I will have cheesecake next year. I love cheesecake!”
  • Student: “That sounds like a good plan.”

In the second scenario, the student(s) had to really focus to be sure to switch back and forth from a supportive comment for a positive situation vs. a negative situation.

2. Quickie Comments

Of course we want our students to make wonderful, thoughtful, empathetic comments.  But sometimes, our students just need an “out.”  A way to respond, seem involved and interested, even if they are not sure or not fast enough to come up with a great comment.  Sometimes, a “Quickie Comment” is enough. 

*Note: I do not allow my students to use more than one or two quickie comments in a short conversation, otherwise, this can become a crutch and be over used.

What is a Quickie Comment?  It’s a one or two word phrase that supports what the other person said, but is general enough to make sense, even if it’s not 100% on target.  Quickie Comments are great when you’re not sure what to say but want to say something.  To make an appropriate Quickie Comment, the student needs to know if the story being told by the other person is positive or negative. 

For example:

Student A:  I went to my grandma’s house this weekend and we worked on some puzzles and then went out to dinner.”

Student B: “Cool”

Or,

Student A:  I went to my grandma’s house this weekend. It was so boring I couldn’t stand it.”

Student B:  “Bummer”

 

3. Comments Brainstorm

Like any skill, making good comments takes practice.  Another fun way to practice is by brainstorming good comments for a variety of scenarios.  To do this, pick a topic and then come up with a few sentences about it. List them one at a time and have your students brainstorm as many good comments as they can, for each.

 

 

4. Connections

Connections are when someone makes a comment that ties what the first person said to something about themselves. So a connection, therefore, is not the most desired of all comments, but it does have it’s place.

If used thoughtfully, connections can show support, commonalities, shared interests, etc.

However, connections can easily be used to turn a conversation around to put the attention on someone else and can be frustrating for the first speaker, if they do not feel the listeners are caring about them.

A good connection might look like this:

Student A.  “I went swimming yesterday. I learned how to do the backstroke.”

Student B.  “Cool!, I learned the backstroke last week!”

In this example, student B. makes a Quickie Comment first, then makes a relevant connection.

An even better connection might look like this:

Student A.  “I went swimming yesterday. I learned how to do the backstroke.”

Student B.  “Cool!, I learned the backstroke last week!  How long did it take you to learn?”

In this example, Student B. makes a Quickie Comment first, then makes a relevant connection, and finally; asks a thoughtful question, bringing the attention back to the original speaker .

Where a Connection can go wrong, is when the person uses it to bring the attention and the conversation to him/herself, without any real acknowlegement of the original speaker.

For example:

Student A.  “I went swimming yesterday. I learned how to do the backstroke.”

Student B.  “I’m a great swimmer. I used to be on a swim team. It’s so easy to swim fast.  I stopped swimming because I decided to play basketball instead.  I had two games this weekend…”

See the difference? 

If you have a student who does this a lot, you can try teaching them the “Me Too” strategy.

The Me Too strategy is a way for students to connect with what someone else is saying, without derailing the conversation.

To do this, teach your students a non-verbal signal that they can use in place of verbally saying “Me Too” or something similar.  This strategy can be very helpful for some.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful as you work with your students on improving their conversations.

 

 Thanks So Much and Happy Teaching!

Cindy ~Socially Skilled Kids

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