Turn Taking in Play and Conversation

  • Situation

    I have a client with difficulty with turn taking. The child is four years old. What kind of intervention strategies or games could I play with the child in order to help him comprehend turn taking in both play and conversation?

  • Summary

    There are a myriad of materials and ways to structure the environment that can promote turn taking.  This ‘Answer’ will provide samples of both.  Conversational turn taking is a more complex process that needs assessment regarding communicative levels.  The examples provided in this answer will show materials and environmental strategies that will have to be individualized for the student’s level of development.  High visual supports, use of naturalistic interventions, and environmental manipulation with motivational items are highlighted.

    • Choose an item that can be built upon by more than one child such as a potato head or paper doll; make sure the item is of interest to your child.
    • Set up and arrange the item and its pieces. Start by saying to your child, “your turn…” then say, “my turn…” and continue to delay your response each time. This may encourage the child to verbalize or indicate “my turn” or “your turn”.
    • If you want to add a level of difficulty to this, set up the materials for the item but only give them to one child so the other child has to ask for a turn and communicate that he/she needs an item.
  • Definition

    Visual Supports make tasks and expectations for responses understandable to children and adults. Naturalistic interventions utilize materials and environments that reflect the child’s interests. Environmental manipulation with motivational items creates situations that promote an initiation, either verbal or motoric that will result in a desired response.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 3-5, 6-10, 11-13
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    Materials reflective of the student’s interests, materials that are conducive to turn taking and can be arranged in a manner to prompt verbalization

  • Process

    1. Choose an item that is of interest to the child.  For example a potato head or ‘paper’ doll is used and arranged so that 2 people can engage with one ‘finished product”.  Set up  the materials so each person has the same amount of items such as pieces for the potato head and clothing for the doll.  The adult can begin by saying ‘your turn, put the ___ on’; ‘my turn, I’ll put the ___ on.”  As you continue, begin to delay your response or initiation.  The child may then begin to verbalize with ‘My turn, or your turn.’  Other items that are conducive to ‘one item to complete’ by two people include  ’boggle jr.’ (may not want to use the timer), or a car raceway where each person has an equal amount of cars to take turns dropping down the raceway.

    2. Take the materials and environment to another level that will prompt verbal turn taking.  Utilize similar materials but have one partner have access to the materials the other partner needs.  For example: Each partner can have a bingo dauber paper.  Throughout the paper are visual cues that indicate what color is needed.  The colors needed by the child are in possession of his/her partner and the colors needed by the partner are in the possession of the child.  Each must somehow communicate to the other what they need.

    3. Creating a spinner with colors designated to each person for a turn or photos of the participants on the spinner can serve as a visual for turn taking.  Placing an equal number of photos of each participant in a bowl and pulling out the picture can also be a visual support for turn taking.  Using notecards that say “Your turn”  and teaching the child to hand to a partner when he/she is finished is another supportive visual support as well as a prompt for communication.

    4. Don’t Just Act…Interact: Promoting Social Interactions “ is an excellent resource filled with interactive ideas created by staff at the Watson Institute LEAP Preschool. (See related resources below.)


  • Documents and Related Resources

    Teaching Positive Interaction Skills (Related answer on this site)


    Clip Board Surveys (Related answer on this site)


    Using and Creating Routines to Promote Interaction (Related answer on this site)


    Don’t Just Act…Interact: Promoting Social Interactions (link for possible purchase)


    Social Skills Powerpoint Curriculum



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