4-H leadership programs promote conversations that matter

Ways to start great conversations with youth.

With the increase of electronics, some worry that conversation is a lost art. It has long been a challenge keeping youth engaged in conversation when they are not enthused about sharing. Electronics seem to have added an extra challenge in keeping youth talking so that they are engaged in school, family and programs. 4-H youth leadership programs invite great conversations and give youth a platform to communicate their ideas about a wide variety of issues and ideas.

In Michigan, some popular 4-H leadership programs include State 4-H Youth Leadership Council, 4-H Capitol Experience, 4-H Citizenship Washington Focus and workshops like 4-H Youth Leadship and Global Spectacular. Many of these programs are youth driven with educators teaching the facilitation skill necessary. All of the programs promote great dialog with and between young people with a way of sharing ideas.

How can you promote good conversations? In order to keep youth (or adults as well) talking, ask yourself if you are you really listening. This should be the first question to ask yourself when promoting conversation. Are you concentrating on what the speaker is saying or are you thinking about your response while the other person is talking? The speaker can usually sense if you are truly concentrating on what the they are sharing.

Distracting conversations can end just the way distracted driving can end, but in a collision of thoughts. Stay focused on the speaker’s words and use those active listening skills and give some feedback that you are listening to the conversation by saying a few words like “Really?” “That’s interesting,” or “I wish I was there.” Make sure the tone of your voice conveys that you are interested. This is a way to show the speaker you are interested in what they are saying and you want to know more. You can also ask questions about what the speaker is saying to show them you are following the conversation and are interested in what they are saying.

Have you ever asked a yes/no question that pretty much ended the conversation before it even go started? Questions like, “How was your day?” or “Did you have a good day?” although well-meaning, may not produce a good conversation because the question can be answered quite quickly and may not elicit any other information than a simple one-word answer. Questions that may be better include, “What was your hardest/best/easiest part of the day at school? Why?” and “How was that test in math today?” Following up on an event or topic they have already shared may be a good conversation starter.

A jar of story starters or sentence starters written on slips of paper can be used to break the ice (icebreaker activity) to get people talking in a group or with a partner. Starters can be of random topic areas or attached to one specific idea (leadership, school, social media) depending on your group and purpose. Examples of starters can be:

  • What was your favorite memory of a holiday?
  • If you were given a million dollars, what would you do first?
  • What do you think of school dress codes? Should there be a dress code for dances, school? Why?
  • If you could travel in space, where would you want to visit?
  • What do you think about a current event?
  • What is your dream job, career, vacation, etc?
  • If you could talk with anyone living or passed, who would it be, why?
  • I’ve heard about the new movie out, what do you think?
  • Is social media good, bad or both? Why?

The book “Conversations on the Go; Clever Questions to Keep Teens and Grown-ups Talking” by Mary Alice Ackerman and put out by the Search Institute contains several conversation starter questions that can be used with teens to spark a conversation.

Check out Michigan State University Extension's 4-H Communications and 4-H Leadership, Citizenship and Service websites for more information on programs.

Good conversations can lead to greater participation of teens in programs, family and school!

For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your county MSU Extension office.

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