Working on Conversation and Listening Skills When Students Aren’t in School

No matter how you feel about the world’s current situation, it’s safe to admit one thing: we’re all lacking social connection.

Especially our students.

As an improv teacher and conversation coach, I know how skills can atrophy quickly when they aren’t being used. While we’re working on finding whatever the new normal is, here are a few fun improv-based activities that you can do with your students to keep their listening and conversation skills growing.

Play the Last Word

Have a student that likes to jump to answer the question before it’s even finished? Maybe they aren’t responding to the person before them, only reacting with emotion and without thoughtfulness. Here’s an easy—and silly—game to stop that habit!  Someone starts and says one sentence. Then the next person goes, using the last word of the previous sentence as the first word of their response. For example:

Person One: “I love nachos!”

Person Two: “Nachos are fantastic.”

And so forth. Once you both have the hang of it, focus on the topic, so you don’t just listen for the last word. After that it becomes easy. Then try changing to using the last letter of the last word as your response’s first letter. For example:

Person One: “Tacos are my favorite food.”

Person Two: “Do you like cheese?”

Person One: “Everyone loves cheese!”

What this activity focuses on is the time between someone speaking and someone responding. It gives time for thoughtfulness to occur in a response, over against an immediate reaction or desire to speak.

Give a Mini “TED” Talk

Got an idea worth spreading? Or a student with a hobby they love? Set up a mini TED stage—grab a round carpet or make a “stage” and deliver an impromptu talk. Remove the pressure from the actual TED stage and create a talk with 0-20 minutes of preparation. Focus your student on being confident and inspiring—not on being perfect. Make a mistake? Give a joyous yell of trying and keep going!

Out of ideas? Think about things you can convince people to do—maybe it’s something like smiling more, drinking more water, or eating a few extra veggies. If you’d rather stick to “passions,” think hobbies: art, soccer, plants, or even the various varieties of sour candies? The sky is the limit on your TED stage!  This activity plays with the idea of failure, confidence, perfection, and public speaking.

“Yes, And. . .” Conversations

Start a conversation about something you have feelings about—and keep it light!  Maybe: “Is cereal a soup?” or “Is a hot dog a sandwich?” No matter what the student feels, you have to stick to a pattern of affirming what the other person said with a “YES,” and then adding your opinion with an “AND.” For example, if the discussion was about pineapple on pizza, it might start with:

Person One: “Pineapple on pizza is disgusting.”

Person Two: “Yes, you think pineapple on pizza is disgusting, and I think the sweet complements the sauce.”

Person One: “Yes, you think the sweet complements the sauce, and I think the pineapple makes the cheese weird.”

And so on. You’re not only focusing on active listening here—specifically, listening to understand, but also on having a conversation where you can hold other’s opinions in equal regard to yours. You want to avoid the word “but” that so often comes up in arguments—it will elevate your opinion and create an argument. A special note: when you say “YES,” you’re not agreeing with the other person! You’re affirming what they just said, and how they feel.

These are only a few fun activities to keep working on those social skills while waiting for the world to stop changing. Take care, and remember to have fun!



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