Teaching how to have good conversations, revisited

3 Tips to Have Better Conversations

I just read this article in The New York Times and thought I’d follow up my last post “Teaching how to have a good conversation“. That lesson plan worked very well in my first-year high school class by the way. If you haven’t tried it, please do. Not necessarily in English class only. Any class where we expect the students to contribute by having conversations or speaking in front of the class, qualifies. The article in The New York Times is a series of at least 3 articles by the way. I’m sharing all of them here. Want to seem more likable and Be better at parties.

Lesson plan

  1. Have the students read through the points below and make notes
  2. The students draw a number from 1 – 5. You want a lot more of number 5’s than the other numbers. The number matches a list of different types of people to play in a conversation role play. Find the roles here.
  3. Play some soft music in the classroom, move all the desk in towards the wall and start the roleplay. Each student should talk to at least 3 different students.
  4. After the session, each student gets to guess which role the students the talked to had and who was the nicest conversation partner.

Tier one is safe territory: sports, the weather, pop culture, local celebrities and any immediate shared experience.
Tier two is potentially controversial: religion, politics, dating and love lives. “Test the waters, and back away if they’re not interested,” one expert told Jen.
Tier three includes the most intimate topics: family, finance, health and work life. “Some people love to talk about what they do and their kids, but don’t ask a probing question until the door has been opened,” said Daniel Post Senning, an etiquette expert and the great-great-grandson of Emily Post.

Don’t enter a conversation with the intent of leaving everyone in stitches, unless perhaps you’re a professional comedian.

We’ve all been involved in those irritating conversations where we can never get a word in edgewise. Unfortunately, we may have been on the other side, too. Mr. Post Senning said it was crucial to “share the conversation pie. Share half if there are two of you, a quarter if there are four. The share of the pie is never as large as what involves you listening.”

To be a true conversation superstar, try these tips:

Be attentive and give eye contact.
Make active and engaged expressions
Repeat back what you’ve heard, and follow up with questions
If you notice something you want to say, don’t say it. Challenge it and go back to listening.
For bonus points, wait an hour to bring up that thing you didn’t say earlier.

Follow up questions

The getting-to-know-you conversations between platonic conversation partners, along with face-to-face speed-dating conversations, and found that in both settings “people who ask more questions, particularly follow-up questions, are better liked by their conversation partners.”

Roleplay – Time to Mingle



You could ask a question:

  • What do you do?
  • Been to any concerts lately?
  • Where were you raised?
  • Do you like that soda?
  • Did you take the train here?

Or give a compliment:

  • I like your hair.
  • That’s a cool shirt.

Whatever you do, do say hello, and be genuine. “If you’re the type who walks into a room and you don’t know what to say and you don’t say hello, never think they’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt. They’re going to think you’re avoiding them or a snob,” cautioned Ms. Fine. “If you don’t remember someone’s name, go over and say: ‘I don’t remember your name. I feel like an idiot, can you remind me?’”


Despite popular opinion, “There’s nothing wrong with starting with the weather if there’s been a lot of snow or it’s really raining,” Ms. Fine said. You can then use it as a way to learn more about someone. “Boy, this weather stinks, what’s the worst weather you’ve ever endured?”

I would love to hear from you