Sit-Down Meals: Conversation Starters

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

Lively conversations at the dinner table make dining a memorable event.

How about this conversation starter: “What happened in school today?” This could be a perfectly fine question to ask your children and they might talk about school  for hours. On the other hand, if your child had an embarrassing moment at school or was sent to the office…oops, maybe not the best way to start an open discussion. It all depends on your family’s comfort level.

Here are some sure-fire ways I used in the classroom to start and keep conversations going among students. These work in the home as well.

Challenge young children with this. “Suppose there was a magical pet store in town and you could go there and make any kind of pet you wanted… (if needed, add “What would it look like?” or “What magical powers would it have?”)

Challenge teenagers with this: “How do different types of music affect you?”  (if needed, mention “country, heavy metal, jazz, soul, etc and you will get a reaction)

Challenge adults with this: “Share a ‘WOW moment’ from your high school years.” (or other era)

Now that you have started the conversation, here are some tips to keep everyone involved in the discussions at the dinner table.

  • Define who’s the teller and who’s the listener. Often times children will direct the conversation solely to the parent or their favorite person. When this happens, a simple comment like “Ezra would like to hear about this too.” or “Did Abbie understand what you said?” will remind the teller that everyone is an active listener. When everyone is included, conversations have a good chance of continuing.
  • Use the word “and” when adding an idea to the topic. Conversations are like telling a group story and each new comment is like adding a chapter. 
  • Instill the idea that everyone’s comment has value. No one would want to enter the conversation if there is a remote chance of being laughed at. Comments that are “outside the box” are welcomed by people in think tanks trying to design a new product or create an ad. Off the wall comments add life to conversations.
  • Repeat the previous teller’s last sentence and then add to their topic. That little trick tells the last person that their idea was valuable and you just want to add more to it.
  • Pass the rock is a Native American tradition that recognizes who gets to speak next. If someone tries to dominate the discussion give an object(rock) to the next speaker. No one can speak without holding the object.
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About Don R

Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Retired teacher. Multiple successful business endeavors including screen printing / sporting goods business, executive director of a Boys & Girls Club, commercial fishing, and co-founding an alternative high school. Interests include family, hiking, cooking, Parkinson's research and developing an educational cooking program.