Needs Focused Teaching

3 ways to start conversations with students when they would rather not talk to you.




It’s important to find out about your students’ interests so that you can build strong and meaningful relationships, but what happens if they don’t even want to talk to you? As well as knowing their interests, you need a way of starting the conversation with them up your sleeve. Getting adolescents to open up and chat with you can be very uncomfortable – it often seems they would much rather do anything else but talk to you. For that reason we need a way in – and that’s exactly what we’re going to look at now. Here are 3 simple ways to start conversations with your students…


  1. Ask them for advice

When we give young people the chance to express their opinions it shows that we value them and what they have to say. So, when you’re stuck for something to talk about simply ask your students questions that allow them to describe their interests and ideas – subjects they know about.

Some students love to give advice on music, fashion, hairstyles, make-up and jewellery, while others are keen on computer games, sports and pretty much anything practical or technical. You might ask one student for their opinion on what you should wear for an upcoming party and another for a run-down of the latest happenings on the current hot TV soap. If you’re trying to strike up a conversation with a more outdoorsy type, try getting him or her to help you with something of a practical nature.


  1. Ask a favour – the Franklin effect

When we think about ways to build bonds with people we intuitively think along the lines of doing something nice for them or caring about them – as per our second essential strategy for positive relationships. The 18th century politician, scientist and statesman Benjamin Franklin found an alternative, counter-intuitive approach which can be equally, if not more, effective in certain situations: asking favours of them.

Franklin believed that if you want to increase the likelihood of someone liking you, get them to do you a favour. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense – when you do someone a favour it draws you towards them. Helping people gives us a sense of being needed or wanted which feels good.

So, the next time you’re trying to make a connection and find a way in with a student, remember the Franklin effect. You could ask them to help you sort out a problem with your laptop, carry some heavy equipment, choose an outfit for a wedding, pick a CD for a teenage relative, help design a wall display, decorate your house, wash your car, do your ironing …


  1. Give them a compliment

Apparently, when a person gives a compliment to a stranger, the person who has been complimented later describes that person as taller, slimmer and younger than they really are. That is great news – not only are compliments a great way to start conversations (as you’ll soon see) but giving them has the added bonus of making you seem more attractive!

The problem with compliments is that they are often dismissed by the recipient because of self-esteem issues or perhaps because the compliment seems insincere or even manipulative. In that sense you might be forgiven for thinking they are a fairly useless way to start a conversation: ‘Hi, I like your shoes.’ ‘Oh, thanks. Bye.’

To get over this hurdle we need to make them more believable. We can do this by adding just three pieces of information: (1) use the person’s name to make it more personal, (2) add credibility by telling them why you’re giving the compliment and (3) finish with an open-ended question.

And now you know the secret to giving great compliments you can use them in your private life too!

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