The Eight Traits of Conversation

January 18, 2017 Updated January 15, 2017

We engage in conversation as learners, as professionals, and in social settings.  

We build, shape, and grow our knowledge, understandings, and experiences through conversation.  As lifelong learners, conversation provides us the opportunity to exercise thinking, creativity, and problem solving.  

The idea behind a "common core" set of standards is critically important; what are the core concepts and skills - the ABCs if you will - that will enable our students to learn to learn?  One could argue that it comes down to the pillars of literacy for lifelong learning - reading, writing, conversation, and presentation. 

The ability to effectively engage in conversation is developed through a knowledge and skill set.  The Eight Traits of Conversation represents that knowledge and skill set.  We have had huge success with these traits by making them core learning objectives across grade levels so that by the time the kids leave elementary or middle school these traits become a habit of mind.  Our students grow their art of conversation.  

Check them out.  What do you think?

1. Be Respectful

Appreciate others’ thinking.  Encourage others to participate in the conversation. 
Take the conversation seriously.  Disagree politely. 

2. Be Prepared

Focus on the topic, activate background knowledge, and make connections. Prepare for conversations about shared reading by generating questions, making notes, and marking passages.  Participate and contribute to the conversation. 

3. Be An Active Listener

Look at the person speaking.  Ask questions based upon what others have said.  Build upon and add to what others have to say.

4. Be Clear

Speak clearly so that others understand.  Speak in complete sentences.  Express thoughts precisely and with details.  Support thinking with evidence.   

5. Inquire and Probe

Ask multiple, open-ended questions.  Investigate, examine, scrutinize, and analyze others’ thoughts and ideas. 

6. Show Comprehension  

Exercise cognitive processes, meta-cognition, and comprehension through the elements of literature in order to demonstrate understanding.

7. Check Understanding

Examine thinking.  Listen to the inner conversation.  Reflect upon and communicate how thoughts have changed.  Share with others when understanding breaks down.  

8. Control Self  

Take turns and give others the opportunity to speak.  Monitor contributions to the conversation in terms of how often and how much.  Listen without interrupting.  Use wait time.  Pay attention to volume and tone. 

We even wrote a thought provoking piece of poetry for the Traits of Conversation:

A Passion for Conversation

Being polite and respectful, 
one trait of conversation's art, 
completely prepared and engaged, 
with passion we are ready to start.

To be an active listener, 
in a sincere, authentic way,
being clear, seeking clarity,
asking questions at our cafe.

To gain a deep understanding,
we think, inquire, and probe to know,
monitoring comprehension,
the inner voice begins to grow.

Controlling impulsiveness too,
engaging this way is mature.
Our spiritual rudder guides us,
integrity makes the talk pure.


This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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