Teaching Tips: Helping kids take turns in group discussions

“Oh! Oh! I know! I know the answer! Call on ME!”

It’s hard to ignore the enthusiasm of  a student who is so eager to share ideas. However, group discussions can be difficult for some students with hidden disabilities. These kids might struggle with turn-taking, reading social cues, impulse control and short-term memory. As a result, their contributions to conversations can be off-topic or repetitive. When called on, they may begin to “monologue” about a topic of interest, or struggle to retrieve the words and phrases necessary to answer the question.

Sound familiar? If so, here are a couple of real-life scenarios, along with solutions that really work!

Problem: A kindergarten student with autism who loves raising his hand during Sunday School discussions became frustrated and angry when he wasn’t called on each time. This frustration often led to tears, and sometimes even tantrums.  His volunteer buddy tried to distract him and help him to take turns, but he continued to struggle.
Solution: We suggested that the buddy give this child 2 or 3 legos. Each lego represented one turn in the group conversation. After each turn, the child gave a lego to his buddy. When the legos were gone, he was done with his turns for that conversation.
The Result: The student did very well with this tangible reminder of turn-taking. He was able to share ideas with increased structure and remained in his class for the entire hour.

Problem: When participating in a girls’ small group, a ninth grade student with ADHD blurted her opinion to every discussion question before the other girls had an opportunity to speak. The youth group leader noticed that some girls in the group had started to roll their eyes and tune this student out.
Solution:  The leader took the student aside and gently talked with her about the issue. The leader suggested that the student try being the third or fourth person to answer a question instead of the first. They also developed a non-verbal cueing system that helped the student manage the length of her responses.
The Result: More aware of her tendency to blurt out answers, the student has used her new strategy in youth group with great success. She also has applied it to school discussions and informal conversations with friends.

Okay…Raise your hand if you have another good solution for this problem! Please share it in the comment section…

Yours for peaceful and productive discussions~


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