Play This Game Now To Build Conversation and Problem Solving Skills

Rebekah Carlile

Working on conversational skills in a therapy setting can feel a bit…dare I say contrived?? The Oxford English Dictionary offers this definition:

Con-trived: (adjective)  deliberately created rather than arising naturally or spontaneously;  created or arranged in a way that seems artificial and unrealistic.

Hmmm… I mean, if we’re honest, every time we do therapy it’s somewhat contrived. The nature of what we do, asks us to “create” or “arrange” experiences for our students. Some of these are more natural than others. Research guides us to try to create contexts that are authentic, but that’s sometimes easier said than done. Especially when it comes to creating conversational tasks. It’s really hard to create an authentic context for building conversational skills  inside the four walls of our therapy sessions. (Oh, and yes, please do so within about 30 minutes!)

When I went back to grad school to study Mind, Brain & Education, after practicing as an SLP for 15 years, the thing that stuck with me most was about how to create contexts where kids could do their very best learning. In his book, Making Sense of Behavior, William T. Powers talks about “Perceptual Control Theory," a way of understanding why people do the things they do. Dr. Powers’ framework is also helpful for thinking about how to create environments that are authentic and engaging for students. (Powers, W.T. 1998). 

For example, if you take a goal like this…”Student will make connected comments to drive a conversation forward for at least 3 conversational exchanges in 4 out of 5 opportunities, independently.”

…and embed it into a larger context, like this…
• Solving a puzzle
• Playing a game
• Learning 3 new things about a friend

…then your students learn more and the learning sticks because…
• Intrinsic motivation is increased, 
• They get feedback from the actual activity or game, not just you,
• And students notice and revise their own errors to reach their goal (winning the game or completing the puzzle), not necessarily your goals (making connected comments).
• The catch is that they have to make connected comments (your goal) to reach their goal (winning the game)!

There’s always going to be some element of our therapy that is “contrived,” because we are “deliberately creating” experiences for our students. But if we deliberately create an experience where natural exchanges can arise….voila! We’ve deliberately created some authenticity.

That’s one of the biggest reasons we love serious games. In a serious game, the learning is built into the game play itself, similar to PCT. 

This is why we like to repurpose familiar games using the evidence base of PCT and Serious Games. Here’s how we do it:

Fortunately/Unfortunately is a great way to target conversational skills like making connected comments and turn taking, as well as critical thinking skills problem solving and predicting. 

Ask students to sit in a circle or stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a line. Then proceed to build a logical sequence, with each person saying one sentence at a time. Each sentence must start with either “fortunately” or “unfortunately,” always alternating.
Here’s how a sample game might unfold. The first player begins with a simple statement:

One day, when we left for school, the car wouldn’t start.
The second player must think…
• What are the key words or phrases that I need to connect? (left for school/car wouldn’t start)
• How could I solve the problem of the car not starting?
• Now I need to start my sentence with “Fortunately,…”

Fortunately, school was nearby and we could walk.
The third player must think…
• What are the key words or phrases that I need to connect? (school nearby/walk)
• What is a possible problem I can predict that might happen?
• Now I need to start my sentence with “Unfortunately,...”
Unfortunately, it started pouring down rain.

Continue until the last person in your group has had a turn, or decide how many turns your group will take before starting. If you have a larger group, you can also divide into teams and score points for how many logical sequences each team can make per sentence starter. 

Sometimes, it’s helpful to Introduce the concept by reading one of these books first:
Fortunately, Unfortunately by Michael Foreman. Click on the image to check this book out on Amazon.

Fortunately  by Remy Charlip. Click on the image to check this book out on Amazon.

Before starting, teach students that in order to make a connected comment in this game, you must: 
• Identify important key words or phrases
• Think of possible complications or solutions
• Choose the best one, and generate a sentence starting with either Fortunately  or Unfortunately.

Try these starter sentences…or grab this freebie for more ideas: 
• The cat jumped out the window. 
• I found a $20 bill on the sidewalk.
• A family got a new puppy.
• Jose headed to the airport to catch his flight for Spring Break.

Or grab this freebie for more ideas: Fortunately_Unfortunately.pdf

Brackenbury, T., & Kopf, L. M. (2022). Serious Games and Gamification: Game-Based Learning in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups, 7(2), 482–498.

Powers, W. T. (1998). Making sense of behavior: The meaning of control. Montclair, NJ: Benchmark.

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