How to have a conversation with four children at once by Michael Jones

19th January 2017

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Michael Jones blog Not the survival of the loudest – A play for four children and one adult

One of the biggest challenges for anyone working in early years is how to involve quiet and vulnerable children in conversation, when there are so many other children who want ‘ a piece of the action’! How can we help young children to talk together, so that they all feel that they have been ‘heard’?  Michael Jones describes one approach that works.

The scene: The cloakroom in a Foundation Unit

Mr Jones (MJ) is in the cloakroom at 8.45am, helping children put their coats on their pegs and ‘meeting and greeting’ children and parents as they arrive. Enter Jessica (a quiet, shy child) and her dad. Dad’s in a bit of a rush. He kisses Jessica, and says ‘Mummy will collect you later.’ He looks at MJ and says, ‘Mr Jones will help you with your bag and coat.’ (Winks at Mr Jones). Exit Dad.

Jessica is a bit unhappy to see Dad go, but doesn’t cry. She stands with her coat and bag on.

MJ I like your bag Jessica. That’s Peppa Pig, isn’t it. Let’s hang it on your peg.

(Jessica moves to take her bag off.) I like Peppa.

Jessica I like…

(Enter Josh)

Josh (says loudly to MJ) I’ve got a Spiderman bag! It’s over there on my peg. Come and have a look. And I’ve got Spiderman shoes. Look at them!!

(Enter Zak)

Zak (to MJ, in a voice louder than Josh’s) I’ve got a Thomas bag and Thomas wellies. And I’ve got a train set in my home.

(Jessica moves off. She has hung her bag up but still has her coat on.)

MJ Wait Jessica. (Holds her hand) Let’s help you hang your coat up and then we can tell Josh and Zak about your bag and shoes.

(Jessica looks anxious. MJ helps Jessica with her coat.)

Right boys. Let’s hear about Jessica’s bag and shoes. Jessica has a Peppa Pig bag, and she’s wearing Peppa wellies…

Zak I got…

MJ Wait Zak. It’s Jessica’s turn, then Josh’s turn and then Zak’s turn. Let’s start again.

Jessica has a Peppa bag and Peppa wellies. Josh, you’ve got a Spiderman bag and Spiderman shoes. Zak, you’ve got a Thomas bag, Thomas wellies and a train…

(Enter Khalid. He pushes Jessica and Josh. Josh is about to push him back. Jessica starts to walk off. Michael holds Jessica’s hand.)

Khalid (To MJ in a voice louder than Josh or Zak’s) I got a…

Wait Jessica. Khalid, do you want to hear about everyone’s bag and shoes? Let’s start again.

Jessica, what have you got? Ah, yes… you’ve got a Peppa bag and Peppa wellies. Josh, you’ve got a Spiderman bag and Spiderman shoes. Zak has got a Thomas bag, Thomas wellies and a train set at home. Khalid has got…

Khalid I got a Buzz Lightyear bag and a Woody outfit in my home and a fish in a bowl.

Zak and Josh I got a Buzz at home! I got a Buzz at home!

MJ Great! Now it’s Jessica’s turn, then Josh’s turn and then Zak’s turn and then Khalid’s turn.  Let’s start again. Let’s see if we can all remember who’s got what, and then it’s time for family groups. (Take’s a deep breath.) Jessica, you’ve got a…

All (including Jessica) … Peppa Pig bag and Peppa wellies. Josh has a Spiderman bag and Spiderman shoes. Zak has got a Thomas bag, Thomas wellies and a train…

MJ And Khalid’s got…

All (including Jessica) A Buzz Lightyear bag, a Woody outfit and a fish in a bowl.

MJ  Well done Jessica! Well done everyone. You are so good at listening to each other and letting each other have a chance to speak. Now let’s go to family groups.

(Exit all. Children go to family groups. MJ heads for the staffroom.)


A review of ‘Not the Survival of the Loudest’

What a marvellous play! It’s very common for quiet children to find it challenging to compete for an adult’s attention, when confident children quite naturally join in, but unfortunately take over. Some children also join in to compete for the adult’s attention, just for the sake of competing!

Faced with this situation (which let’s face it is commonplace in settings and classrooms where there are young children) quiet children will walk away.

Michael Jones could have taken the option and allowed Josh to butt in and take over. Another approach would have been to tell Josh to, ‘wait until we have finished talking’. However Michael’s approach allows the other children to join in, and encourages Jessica to stay. He turned the whole conversation into a listening game, and showed the children how to take turns in a conversation.

So children don’t feel the need to out-shout each other to get heard, and it no longer becomes ‘survival of the loudest’.

I imagine that Jessica would have felt an increase in her self-esteem, even though she didn’t say very much.

‘Not the Survival of the Loudest’ starring a quiet child and host of confident children, could be performed at an early years setting or KS1 class near you. Every day!

Feel free to act out this play, with a group of children, any time you can!.

Supporting Quiet Children by Maggie Johnson & Michael Jones is published by Lawrence Educational. Visit  for details.

For more free practical information about early language development and learning visit

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