A Well Managed Conversation Is a Better Conversation

Orderliness encourages respectful participation

For Middle Level

During the first quarter of this past year, Conversation Circle
my goal for one of my seventh grade classes was to improve our whole-group conversations. I could see in early September that they were my chattiest group, not accustomed to raising hands and waiting to speak: they just let it fly! To better manage conversations, I taught students structures for participating. The structures helped students stay focused about how they spoke instead of becoming sloppy or unmannerly.

Tip to Try
List all the ways
to manage conversations,
and display it where everyone can see it. Every time you model and they learn a new conversation- management method, highlight it on your list. This shows students
how many skills they've learned, while acting
as a handy reference
for you.

10 methods
to enrich your
students' discussions. 

Foundation is in place
I was confident that I could tackle this challenge.
The Developmental Designs approach has been in place
in our school and in my classroom for many years, so my
students were already familiar with modeling, take a break,
the Circle of Power and Respect advisory meeting, creating rules, and more. Each week, I taught a new way to participate in whole-group conversations that would fit well with something
I was teaching. When we were reading a story aloud, I taught the strategies Cold Call with Phone a Friend and Pulling Sticks.
We used Talking Piece during circle seating class discussions.

Conversation management tools curbed interruptions
During two whole-group conversations discussing a piece of literature, I kept track of interruptions.

Standard hand-raising
September 15
27 interruptions in 15 minutes

Talking Piece
November 9
5 interruptions in 15 minutes

At first, I was driven to tamp down on the interruptions, which often came from extroverted students and/or students who lacked self control. I now see that a huge side benefit of using the various ways of managing conversation is that it greatly increases participation of the introverts. When I use strategies such as Walk and Talk, Elbow Buddies, and Clock Partners, everyone participates to roughly the same degree. Other strategies, like Talking Piece, Popcorn Share, and Kitchen Table Talk, encourage well mannered volunteers to join in.

Lots of strategies for lots of blurting
Like other Developmental Designs practices, it will take time for managing conversations to become embedded. I will continue to teach and perfect different ways to manage conversations in all of my classes.

Connie Leuenberger teaches seventh graders at Edgartown School in Edgartown, Massachusetts.

Related Topics: 
Managing Conversations