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Conversation Skills: The Meat in the Middle

Most people aren’t very conscious of the skills that make a great conversational partner.

Speech-Language Pathologists do however, spend a LOT of time and energy helping children & adults develop these skills. The intro or starter to a conversation (discussed in the last post) is certainly important to set the right tone. However, it is the meaty middle of a conversation that will make or break it.

How someone maintains a topic, holds up their end of the conversation, shares conversational control and reads their audience will, for the most part, determine if others enjoy the conversation or not.

We’ve all had some pretty bad conversational experiences.

You know the ones I’m talking about. The conversations that go on and on…..and on! The long monologues with millions of insignificant details no one cares about. These are the conversations that can bore you close to tears when you can’t even get a word in to make it interactive. Sometimes there’s more information than you really care to know.

On the other hand not enough details can be just as frustrating. Trying to figure out the “he said” “she said” can be quite confusing.

Children start out zipping around topics but as they gain more language and make more connections they begin to stay longer on a topic. So in the early years you can count the number of conversational turns the child can stay on a topic to see if it’s growing longer. As the child grows to elementary age you can move that from the number of turns to the number of minutes. By the early elementary years of 2 to 3rd grade a child could be expected to sustain and remain engaged on a single topic for 5-10 minutes.

Conversation is truly a mix of many separate skills that either blend together……or not (insert long awkward pause).


There is NOTHIING like a great conversation with close friends.

A blend of side splitting inside jokes that build on themselves in a comfortable pace with fairly equal number of turns on shared topics of interest. NOTHING LIKE IT!!!!

Skills necessary to maintain a conversation:

  • Knowing how much detail your listener needs (or wants)
  • Knowing how to retell a past event
  • Reading the listener to know if they are still interested
  • Reading the listener’s facial expression to know if they require clarification
  • Knowing if your listener is trying to get away (no kidding!, this is a really important skill)
  • Coding old vs. new information. First identify a person by name and then you can use “he” or “she”.
  • Using the general term “a _____” before you can switch to “the ______”.
  • Appropriate use of intonation to emphasize key points or code sarcasm/humor
  • Appropriate eye contact
  • Being able to switch between the lead and the follow roles
  • Sharing conversational control
  • You must have topics and some general knowledge to be able to hold a strong conversation.
  • Be able to provide clarification
  • Transition to new topics
  • Know the appropriate level of casualness for who you are speaking to.

If we know what mature and strong conversational skills look like helps us to mold the skills from our early interactions with children.

Here at Language Launchers, we believe that all of the early conversational experiences children have help shape their skills for life.

We also believe that strong conversation skills are an especially important LIFE SKILL.

So, put down your phones and strike up a conversation with your children!

Really, do it today!

It’s worth the time!!!

Get a FREE digital download handout about Building Conversation with Babies Click here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Early-Intervention-Parent-Handout-Unit-Conversation-2293932

Pamela Talbot

Pamela is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist dually certified as a teacher of the hearing impaired. She is a Listening and Spoken Language LSLS-AVT. Pamela has extensive experience training parents and professionals at the international level.