Have a Good Conversation

[icon name="fa-slideshare"] STANDARD 2: design and develop digital age learning experiences and assessments

Although I will still file it under ISTE standard 2, this article is a little different from your usual tip of the web of the web. Today we’ll address one of the foundational skills that should precede using technology: the art of conversation. In fact, we will look into how to have a good conversation, and just as importantly, how to teach students how to have a good conversation.

The Most Important 21st Century Skill

During the 11:44 min of her inspiring TED talk, Celeste Headlee, a public radio talk show host shares ten tips on how to have a better conversation. Before heading into each of those, Celeste quotes a point which even as a long time adept of technology, I recognize as a self-evident truth to be shared:

Have A Good Conversation

Have A Good Conversation

“Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and one another through screens—but rarely do they have an opportunity to truly hone their interpersonal communication skills. (…) Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain confident, coherent conversation?”
(Barnwell, 2014)

In full agreement with this statement, and considering that 21st century skills are necessary for all 21st century citizens, students and teachers included, I wanted to reproduce Celeste’s tips to remind myself of how to better handle conversations:

Ten Basic Rules of How to Have a Good Conversation

  1. Don’t multitask. Be in that moment. If you want to get out of that conversation, get out of the conversation.
  2. Don’t pontificate. If you want to state your opinion without any opportunity for response, write a blog.
  3. Use open-ended questions. Start your questions with who, what, when, where, why and how.
  4. Go with the flow. Thoughts will come into your mind and you need to let them go out of your mind.
  5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs. It’s not the same. It is never the same.
  7. Try not to repeat yourself. Sometimes we keep rephrasing a point over and over. Don’t do that.
  8. Stay out of the weeds. People don’t care about the years, names, date and details you are struggling to come up with.
  9. Listen. We would rather talk, but instead listen. Paraphrasing Buddha: “If you mouth is open, you’re not learning”.
  10. Be brief. Don’t miss Celeste’s sister quote on this tip.

(Headlee, 2016)

And perhaps the best advice Celeste gave outside of this list:

“Many of you have already heard a lot of advice on this, things like look the person in the eye, think of interesting topics to discuss in advance, look, nod and smile to show that you’re paying attention, repeat back what you just heard or summarize it. So I want you to forget all of that. It is crap. There is no reason to learn how to show you’re paying attention if you are in fact paying attention.
(Headlee, 2016)

Watch Celeste’s talk How to Have a Good Conversation:

Be Polite

The only rules that could perhaps supersede this list are the basic rules of courtesy. If they are missing, start there. To this day, I still believe that these are the most important social skills I teach students day in and day out:

  1. Greet people. Say hello and goodbye. Notice people around you.
  2. Say please. Never omit this word when you ask for a favor.
  3. And thank you. Always be thankful when you receive something from someone, especially when it is a compliment.

That’s it for today. I am on my way to have better conversations. Thank you Celeste.


1. Barnwell, P. (2014, April 22). My Students Don’t Know How to Have a Conversation. Retrieved March 17, 2016, from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/04/my-students-dont-know-how-to-have-a-conversation/360993/

2. Headlee, C. (n.d.). 10 ways to have a better conversation. Retrieved March 17, 2016, from https://www.ted.com/talks/celeste_headlee_10_ways_to_have_a_better_conversation

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