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Using the “Conversation Club” Curriculum 

to Improve Conversation Skills of Students 
with ASD and Other Social Cognition Deficits
Lynn Cannon, M.ED
Courtney Goldstein, M.A., CCC‐SLP
Eve Muller, Ph.D.
November 2014

© The Ivymount School, Inc.
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Disclosures
Lynn Cannon, Social Learning Coordinator, Ivymount School
•Financial Disclosures – current employee of Ivymount School
•Nonfinancial Disclosures – co‐author of Conversation Club curriculum

Courtney Goldstein, Speech Language Pathologist, The Parkside School 
•Financial Disclosures – formerly an employee of Ivymount School
•Nonfinancial Disclosures – co‐author of Conversation Club curriculum

Eve Muller, Coordinator of Program Evaluation and Outcomes Research, 
Ivymount School
•Financial Disclosures – current employee of Ivymount School
•Nonfinancial Disclosures – co‐author of Conversation Club curriculum

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Goals of Presentation

1. Identify skills needed for a conversation
2. Review current literature and interventions available 
3. Learn “Conversation Club” strategies and frameworks 
for teaching conversation skills
4. Review evidence supporting use of the “Conversation 
Club” program to teach conversation
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Conversation Skills
Environmental 
Awareness 
Perspective  and Body 
Taking and  Readiness Good Listening 
Social  Behaviors
Motivation

Gaining 
Topic 
Attention 
Maintenance
Behaviors

Conversation 
Conversation 
Initiation and  Conversation Repair
Topic Selection

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Review of Current Literature
Previous research has demonstrated success in 
boosting conversation skill levels with limitations
‐ Set the bar too low
‐ Taught discrete conversation skills
(Charlop& Milstein, 1989; Chin & Bernard‐Opitz, 2000; Chung, Reavis, Moconi, Drewry, 
Matthws, & Tasse, 2007; Dotson, Leaf, Sheldon, & Sherman, 2010; Leaf, Taubman, 
Bloomfield, Paulos‐Rafuse, Leaf, McEachin, & Oppenheim, 2009; Sarokoff, Taylor, & 
Poulson, 2001)

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Teaching 
• Rationale for why, breakdown of 
Interaction 
the skill, teacher demonstration, 
Procedure (TIP)  student practice, reinforcement
Framework

• Rationale for underlying social 
significance
Social Thinking
• Use of highly motivating super 
heroes/ characters

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Background

Creation of  Research  Presented at 


2011

2012‐2013

2014
Conversation Club continues Social Thinking 
Program occurs  Program  Providers 
during lunchtime continues with  Conference
Research Study  Lower School  Preparing for 
Pilot students publication
Modifications  Program 
made for a variety  continues beyond 
of learners lunch time

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Collaboration Model
Classroom  • Collaboration across 
Social Learning  disciplines to meet the 
Speech Language  needs of each individual 
Coordinator
Pathologist child
• Shared responsibilities in 
terms of:
Occupational  – Planning for explicit, 
Researcher individualized and 
Therapist differentiated instruction
– Creation of materials
– Program implementation
– Assessment
Social Worker Head Teacher – Data Collection and 
Analysis

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Staff Training
• Ongoing trainings for teaching and classroom staff for:
– Consistency across professionals regarding teaching 
protocol and language use
– Greater understanding regarding the social 
significance of each still taught
– More frequent opportunities for reinforcement 
throughout the school day
– Learning of a new skillset outside of their own 
discipline

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Role of the SLP
• Planning of explicit instruction
• Creation of materials
• Explicit teaching during lunch
• Assessment
– Formal testing
– Informal checklists
– Interviews at baseline and end of study
• Staff training
– Ensure all staff are using the same simplified language
– Identify if students are having difficulty due to the language used
– Know when to seek out support from the Speech Language 
Pathologist
– Support modifying the program based on the needs of each 
student
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Selecting Participants
• Lower School children in 1st‐4th grades
• Children with varying social cognitive deficits 
including challenges participating in 
conversation with peers
• Children who benefit from utilizing visuals to 
support learning

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Eligibility Criteria
• Elementary School Aged Students 
– Grades 1‐4
• ROWPVT Standard Score 85
• Students needed to accurately:
– Answer “who,” “what,” “where” and “when” questions 
based on visual information
– Attend to a speaker for at least 1 conversational exchange
– Expressively formulate sentences of at least 4 words in 
length
– Decode words and/or have a strong sight word 
vocabulary
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Baseline Video

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Key Objectives
Environmental 
Awareness 
Perspective  and Body 
Taking and  Readiness Good Listening 
Social  Behaviors
Motivation

Gaining 
Topic 
Attention 
Maintenance
Behaviors

Conversation 
Conversation 
Initiation and  Conversation Repair
Topic Selection

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Sequence of Instruction
Lesson 1 Meet Friendly Freddy: Introduction to Conversation Club
Lesson 2 What is a Conversation? 
Lesson 3 Getting Ready for Conversation: Looking, Position, Voice 
Lesson 4 What is a Topic?: Define and Brainstorm Topics
Lesson 5 Super Brainstorm: Expanding Topics
Lesson 6 Thinking about My Partner: Conversation Club Files
Lesson 7 WH Questions: Use WH Words to Ask and Answer  Questions
Lesson 8 Barrier Game: Use Listening Skills to Follow What Partner is Saying
Lesson 9 Meet Polly the Parrot: Descriptive Statements
Lesson 10 What’s Missing?: Listening Skills
Lesson 11 Keep the Conversation Going: Identifying Key Words
Lesson 12 Meet Looking Lisa: Use eyes to think about our conversation partner
Lesson 13 Looking Lisa & Listening Louie: Put it all together‐ Looking Eyes & Listening Ears
Lesson 14 Meet Good Memory Marge: Remembering what our partner says
Lesson 15 Polly the Parrot: Expanding conversation
Lesson 16 Meet New Words Nate: Conversation Starters
Lesson 17 Branching Out: Bridging statements 
Lesson 18 Sprouting Leaves: Follow‐up statements
Lesson 19 Bringing it All Together
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Progress Report
• Assesses targeted skills within each 
conversation domain
– Conversation Initiation and Topic Selection
– Topic Maintenance
– Perspective Taking and Social Motivation
– Environmental Awareness and Body Readiness
– Good Listening Behaviors
– Gaining Attention Behaviors
– Conversation Repair
• Scale
– Absent, Emerging, Developing, Mastered
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Procedure
30 minute lunch period

Lunch set up
5 minutes

MONDAY‐THURSDAY FRIDAY
20 minutes:  20 minutes:
Explicit Instruction/Brainstorm   Generalization
Conversation and Reinforcement Reinforcement 

Wrap up/clean up
5 minutes

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Making Lessons Fun
• Conversation is DIFFICULT for the students 
we are working with and we must make it 
fun in order for it to be motivating

•Club
•Passwords
Reinforcing Student Effort and Engagement

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Conversations and Topics
A conversation is when 2 or
more people share and learn
information. I didn’t know
Maria went to
the zoo!

Yesterday,
I went to
the zoo!

A topic is what we talk about


in our conversation.
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Conversation Club Stories

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Preparing for & Initiating Conversation

How do we get ready for a conversation? 
Share space with the person
Look at the person
Get their attention
Use an indoor voice 

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Topic Maintenance/ Wh Words
Maintain a topic for an
increasing number of
exchanges.

Expand vocabulary/
schema

Ask/ Answer
“WH” Questions
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Barrier Game Video

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Listening Behaviors/ Key Words 
Identify key words and
ask follow-up questions.

Good listeners
remember
what their
peers say.

“Why” being a good listener helps


you in conversation.
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Conversation Chart Video

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Expanding Conversation 
When the cool club members are  When Polly has a 
having a conversation, one person  conversation, she wants to 
may say something about a topic.   make sure that her partner 
Polly helps that person tell his  knows all the information.  
Conversation Partner even more  She’s going to tell you:
about the topic! 
WHO she was with
WHAT she did
WHERE she was
WHEN she did it

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Polly Video 

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Attending to Peers
Thinking about our conversation partner by 
checking in with our eyes.

Are the interested? 

Are they paying attention? 

How can I get my partner’s attention? 
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Thinking about Conversation Partners
Conversation Club Member Files

• What do I know about 
my partner? 
• What do I remember 
about our past 
conversations? 
• What do we have in 
common? 

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Tree Visual
Goal: expanding 
conversation and  
reducing unexpected 
comments

Branches and leaves 
represent the 
connected comments

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“Conversation Club” Pilot Study
Study Participants
• 7‐9 year olds
• n=7

Gathering Data
• Baseline & end‐of‐year videotapes

Analyzing Data
• Improvement over time?
• Generalization of skills outside of instructional 
context both with/without reinforcement?

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Post Video

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CC Outcomes: Increased Peer‐directed Initiations
180.0

160.0

140.0

120.0

100.0
Baseline
EOY w Reinforcement
80.0
EOY w/o Reinforcement

60.0

40.0

20.0

0.0
Student 1 Student 2 Student 3 Student 4 Student 5 Student 6 Student 7 Average

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CC Outcomes: Increased Used of Question 
Asking to Introduce and Maintain Conversation 
180.0

160.0

140.0

120.0

100.0 Baseline
EOY w Reinforcement
80.0
EOY w/o Reinforcement
60.0

40.0

20.0

0.0
Student 1 Student 2 Student 3 Student 4 Student 5 Student 6 Student 7 Average

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CC Outcomes: Increased Use of 
“Wh” Words
25.0

20.0

15.0
Baseline
EOY w Reinforcement
10.0 EOY w/o Reinforcement

5.0

0.0
Student 1 Student 2 Student 3 Student 4 Student 5 Student 6 Student 7 Average

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CC Outcomes: Increased 
Gaining Attention Strategies
20.0

18.0

16.0

14.0

12.0
Baseline
10.0
EOY w Reinforcement
8.0 EOY w/o Reinforcement

6.0

4.0

2.0

0.0
Student 1 Student 2 Student 3 Student 4 Student 5 Student 6 Student 7 Average

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CC Outcomes: Increased Attempts 
at Conversation Repair
14.0

12.0

10.0

8.0
Baseline
EOY w Reinforcement
6.0
EOY w/o Reinforcement

4.0

2.0

0.0
Student 1 Student 2 Student 3 Student 4 Student 5 Student 6 Student 7 Average

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CC Study: Limitations
Small sample size

Did not measure:
• Long‐term generalization
• Generalization to non‐lunch contexts
Ongoing challenges:
• Pacing
• Non‐responsiveness 

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Tools to Take With You
Find opportunities to practice

Pull instructor out of “lead” role

Make conversation fun

Use visuals

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Next Steps

Continue intervention

Gather ongoing data

Modify curriculum as needed

Publish curriculum 

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Conclusions

Conversation Club offers a unique approach to teaching 
students with ASD the “how” & “why” of conversation.

Data indicate that CC is an effective means of teaching 
conversation skills to this population.

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References
Crooke, P., Hendrix, R., & Rachman, J. (2008). Brief report: Measuring the 
effectiveness of teaching social thinking to children with Asperger 
Syndrome (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA). Journal of Autism 
and Developmental Disorders, 38, 581‐591.
Dotson, W., Leaf, J., Sheldon, J., & Sherman, J. (2010). Group teaching of 
conversational skills to adolescents on the autism spectrum. Research in 
Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4, 199‐209.
Leaf, J., Dotson, W., Oppenheim, M., Sheldon, J., & Sherman, J. (2010). The 
effectiveness of a group teaching interaction procedure for teaching 
social skills to young children with a pervasive developmental disorder. 
Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4, 186‐198.
Madrigal, S., & Winner, M.G. (2009). Superflex Takes on Glassman and the Team 
of Unthinkables. San Jose, CA: Think Social Publishing.

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Contact Information
• lcannon@ivymount.org
• emuller@ivymount.org
• cgoldstein@parksideschool.org

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