After we did the study skills/learning skills unit “The Case of the Super Students” (someday I’ll finish blogging about that…) for 2nd grade, my co-counselor and I felt like we had to deliver awesomeness for the rest of our lessons in that grade this year. I also got in my mind that we needed to do an escape room. This all lead to us creating a safari themed mini-unit focusing on conversation skills. This was an especially important topic for us due to our large EL population. The first specific skill we wanted to tackle was staying on topic and turn taking in conversations. The problem? There’s no mentor texts out there for this, and no age appropriate videos. Here’s what we came up with for our conversation skills lesson.
Being a big dreamer and schemer that I am, I decided to just write my own. If you take away nothing else from this post – take away the suggestion to just write your own stories if you’re not finding something you love out there! I did have to splurge on good clipart so the “illustrations” throughout fit well together, but it was well worth it. I created the story in PPT so that I would have the option of projecting and reading as well as having a hard copy. I don’t have a spiral binder, and am not ready to buy one yet. I wanted something “fancier” than stapling though, so I made three hole punches on the side of each page and added binder rings. It actually worked beautifully! I was able to flip the pages completely over (like in a spiral bound notebook) while I was reading it aloud. While I’m not a children’s author and my story isn’t going to win any Caldecott awards, it did accomplish what I needed. Writing it myself let me have complete control as well, something I’ll admit to wanting. Do I think I could get away with writing my own story like this for my 4th graders? Nah. But for 3rd and below? This is a great new option.
For this lesson, the story is about two kids who go on a safari. One becomes annoyed with the other, and he learns it’s because he’s not “staying on the conversation path” with her. Their guide teaches him what this means and he figures out how to stay on topic with their conversations and to take turns so he’s not doing all the talking.
This is where I should also mention that I’ve gotten sucked into the land of instagram and all the teachers with their “set the stage to engage” enthusiasm. So I dressed up. I bought a cargo vest and borrowed my husband’s binoculars and hat and just went for it. Did I feel like a fool the first time? Yes. Was this necessary for the lesson? No. Did it result in instant engagement? Yes! And I think after I got over my nerves, it gave me more enthusiasm which resulted in a better delivery of the lesson.
After reading the story aloud (and stopping to really explain the concepts), I wanted to model this idea for them one more time before sending them to practice without me. I made a “path” with speech bubbles and had a student volunteer “walk” it with me while reading the lines aloud to model a conversation on the path.
For the applied/practice component of our lesson, I made little safari path boards (that aren’t actually games but look like game boards) and tiny jeeps. With partners (that the teachers kindly made for me – shout out to great teachers willing to stop their grading for a minute and help me with this!), they took turns moving the jeep piece along the path while having a conversation about a specific topic. I gave them topic cards and they took turns deciding the topic, changing it each time their path turned. To help facilitate their conversations even further, I gave each pair a set of sentence stems to use.
Did they use the sentence stems? Nope. Not without my prompting them specifically to do so. They were fully capable of reading them…they just didn’t. I think it was a combination of 1) me not doing a good enough job modeling how to use it and telling them to use it and 2) it’s a hard skill that needs more reinforcement.
Now, they did GREAT at taking turns, and also at staying on topic. What the teachers and I noticed was a struggle was building the conversation instead of simply taking turns listing ideas related to the main topic. My teachers have been working on this skill after I left however, especially during discussions in ELA and during Morning Meeting.
The last piece of this conversation skills lesson was a quick movement-based check for understanding. I asked all the students to line up on an imaginary path. I read scenarios and they decided if it demonstrated “staying on the path together” or not. If so, they jumped up and down onto their imaginary path. If not, they stepped off “the path.” They rocked this. It was such a great way to add in some movement and also let me know where they were in their grasp of the concept.
Now go write your own “mentor text” for a social skill!
If you’re interested in having all the pieces and parts of this lesson for yourself, you can find them by clicking the image below, along with the whole unit: