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By GreatSchools Staff
One of the best conversation starters I've found is to ask two simple questions that everyone at the table gets the chance to answer: "What was the best thing that happened to you today? What was the worst?"
The general approach my parents took to improving my siblings' and my vocabulary and conversation skills was — from a very, very young age — to always treat us and speak to us as if we were adults. For instance, my parents generally had lively conversations all the time about local, national, and international politics. If we children were in the room, we were expected to fully participate and describe and debate our views (yes, I'm sure this meant years of "What do you think of Reagan's stance on the world economy?" "He's a butthead." "Why do you think he's a butthead and is there any term you could use instead of 'butthead' that would better convey what you actually mean?", etc.). This helped make us kids better informed, understand the value of this type of conversation, learn new vocabulary through current events, and also learn how to thoughtfully develop and articulate one's political, religious, and social views.
Dinner guests! Whether we had one of our young friends or an adult (family friend or professional colleague)over to dinner, the conversation was always interesting. We loved hearing new stories, and consequently we learned to listen and ask good questions.
I grew up in a household where we often ate dinner in three shifts: My little sister and I ate at 5:00, our teenage siblings ate later (after their sports and music activities), and my physician father ate with my mother at 11:00 p.m. What made it all work was that my mother always sat and talked with us while we ate our dinner. She would knit or crochet but was really tuned into us. She ignored the phone, the TV stayed off, etc. Mom taught us about cooking a balanced meal by aiming for a variety of colors on the plate. This is common advice today but was a novel concept in the 1970s. Sometimes she'd tell us the history of a particular family recipe, which triggered questions about relatives, family traditions, etc.
My family always placed politics front-and-center at the dinner table. My dad would pretend he was a John McLaughlin-like TV host and we'd have spirited debates with each family member taking opposing sides. It made for exciting dinners. It also encouraged me to read the newspaper each day so that I could meaningfully participate in the discussion (and, on occasion, win an argument or two).
We generally start the conversation by engaging the most creative and outspoken person in the room since this person is sure to bring up a topic of interest. One example — that special family vacation we took and how fun it was — we then have someone share their special moment.
I visited the largest empty volcano in the world on a recent trip. I told all about it, including the types of rocks and species found there. It was great to revisit our family vacation and get everyone in the room involved.
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