Pragmatic Skills Series: Topic Initiation

We are constantly working with our students trying to get them to keep the conversation going.  For many students, starting the conversation can be challenging.  Many students require prompting in order to talk to their peers.  Whether it is working with a group on a project in class, sitting at lunch, or at a birthday party, students need to understand how to approach a peer for appropriate interactions.  One way I like to address this is through role playing.  I like to give students the topic and they must figure out a way to appropriately start it.  In my therapy room, we have worked together to create a script and then act it out.  Can the student walk over to another, tap them or call name to get their attention, and then introduce a topic?  It is important to understand that you may have to talk about something that may not be interesting to them.   Once they have practiced my topics, I let them chose their own! 

I have created a new product that is available at my TpT store!  It is called Conversation BINGO!

This file includes 5 BINGO boards and calling cards.  Skills addressed: topic initiation, emotions, role playing, using complete sentences, and more!  All you need to do is print, laminate, cut out the calling cards and grab your BINGO chips!  As you draw the calling cards, students must complete the task in order to put a BINGO chip on that space on their board.

I have also provided this freebie for you!! 

I made it using Boardmaker.  It allow students to ask each other about their favorite things.  It provides a social script for asking and answering the questions.  All you have to do is download, print, and cut each card apart and place them on a binder ring for easy use!  Grab this freebie here!

Another freebie I have for you is a visual you can display to help students with carrier phrases to start appropriate conversations.  I teach my students to:
1. approach their conversation partner
2. get their attention by calling their name or lightly tapping their shoulder
3. use one of these carrier phrases to start the conversation!
Grab this freebie here!


There are some commercially available products that encourage initiation of conversation in various scenarios.  One such product is:

Socially Speaking Game

-Board game to work on emotions, manners, turn taking, conversation, and responding to various social situations

-Deals with situations at home and school

-Encourages role playing and talking amongst players

Social Inferences Fun Deck


Another product that lets students hear about various social situations is the Social Inferences Fun Deck. Students can practice inferring social situations. This can elicit conversation about the scenarios. They can then role play the appropriate ways to handle the situations.

-Respond to inferring questions based on short stories read about social situations

-Motivating stories

Section I – (cards #1–21) asks the student to make an inference about the character’s personality based on his/her behavior in the scene.
Section II – (cards #22–43) asks the student to infer how the character in the scene is feeling.
Section III – (cards #44–63) asks the student to identify the appropriate/inappropriate behavior the character is displaying in the scene.

Conversation Starters Bundle
Another product I use in my speech room are these conversation starters from Natural Learning Concepts.  These cards use two stages for teaching. The first stage teaches children to spontaneously answer questions.  The second stage teaches children to inquire about other people and to initiate conversations. Each set includes six different topics with a yellow card representing the start of each new topic. 

You may have seen my “Pirate Pragmatic Pack” available in my TpTstore. 


One feature of this pack is my role playing cards and conversation starters. 


This is an easy to prepare activity for a low cost.   To celebrate pragmatic skills series week, I will be raffling off one copy of this activity!  Enter in the rafflecopter below for your chance to win!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

How do you work with students to encourage social interaction and initiation?  In my school, I have to do lunch duty several times a month by supervising on the playground.  I like to use that time to encourage my students to start a catch or start a conversation with peers with similar interests.  It is nice to see my students in their element!


  1. I am just starting a new social skills group...We are currently making our own list of conversational topics and establishing some appropriate conversational turn taking rules. I have students from our Meaningful Helpers (upper grades) coming to my class to help my students engage in conversations. We have cards of conversational topics to practice with the older helpers. Thankyou for this wonderful spotlight series! It came at the right time for me!

  2. I really like the Topic Talk cards from Super Duper. They help students with difficulties in initiation come up with things to talk about in a less stressful way.

  3. I also love Topic Talk. I use that with many of my kids on my caseload with pragmatic/conversational goals. You can work on many skills at the same time: eye contact, turn-taking, asking questions, expressive language, etc...

  4. I use the Topic Talk cards and the pragmatic cards from Super Duper.

  5. I made my own conversation thumb-ball to use with my students. It's a great way to teach them how to ask and answer questions.

  6. Thumb ball is a good one. You can make your own with a beach ball.

  7. B/c I primarily work with PK kiddos we usually practice joining play as a conversation starter actually since most PK kiddos engage in play rather than conversation as you and I use it. So we practice "can I play?" or we come up with ideas to expand upon the play scenario already in progress. If I do want to try a conversation in a traditional sense I usually use "what was your favorite thing you did in school today?" b/c then I actually KNOW the context and can guide them to respond successfully!!!
    p.s. I had to like you as my personal FB page so if you see Maria Guy Del Duca...that's me!

  8. I love the topic talk. One of my group lessons for my older kids will be to make our own conversation starter cards.

  9. With my little ones I start with commenting which leads to initiation as they move from just labeling to using a sentence to draw your attention to something they see. It all starts with a child learning the power of communication and using their words.

  10. I use 'roll a dice' with my son.

  11. I love this blog post! You shared so many great ideas! Topic initiation is something a lot of my pragmatic students struggle with and now I have some terrific resources to use. I have Social Inferences and love it. I am definitely going to have to add Topic Talk to my wishlist!

    P.S. If you get a chance, check out my blog I just started


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