Open Educational Resource
Open Educational Resource



Conducting Powerful Conversations

Conducting Powerful Conversations

These tipsheets provide four different ways to structure conversations with learners or community members. The PDF resources in the carousel below include (from left to right): The Affinity Protocol; The Socratic Seminar; The Tuning Protocol; The Save the Last Word for Me Protocol.
Scroll below the resources for guidance on using these resources in your education work.


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Why Use This Tool

These tipsheets provide three different ways to structure conversations with learners or community members. These conversation structures will help you make sure more voices are heard, ensure others listen, and ensure that conversations meet your goals.

It is important to remember, however, that any powerful conversation is built upon relationships of trust and understanding. Building these relationships are critical and can take time. If you are presenting to a group that is new to you, you may need to work closely with a partner or educator the group knows and trusts to ensure honest and thoughtful input.

When to Use This Tool

  • Stage(s) of Learning: Engage, Explore, Elaborate - Each protocol has its own use. The Affinity protocol is a great way to initiate work with input from a large group. The Socratic Seminar and Save the Last Word Protocol can be parts of an in-depth exploration of important and complex ideas or a follow-up to reflect on work. The Tuning Protocol can be used to respond to in-progress work.
  • Time: 30 - 90 minutes - Time varies depending on the depth of discussion desired.
  • Audience: Ages 10 and up - Audiences of older children and adults can engage with each other in these conversations. Most require some interaction with a text.
  • Ease of Use: Complex - These conversation protocols require preparation, facilitation, and active, authentic participation from the audience.

How to Use This Tool

Preparation: Choose a protocol depending on your needs.

  • Affinity Protocol: brainstorming, collecting ideas from a large group, finding common goals
  • Socratic Seminar: listening to different voices, encouraging civil discourse
  • Tuning Protocol: providing group feedback on an idea, proposal, or draft
  • Save the Last Word for Me Protocol: shared close-reading and analysis of a “text” or other resource

Review the protocol directions and processes. Note that Socratic Seminar and Save the Last Word Protocol require a “text,” presentation, or other form or resource for participants to respond to, while the Tuning Protocol requires an idea, proposal, or draft that will receive feedback.

If you are breaking a larger group into smaller groups for discussion, consider the expertise and diverse perspectives that are represented on each team.


  1. Distribute or display the protocol timing and organization as part of the introduction. Do not distribute your “text” or begin your presentation until you have provided an overview of the discussion format.
  2. Discuss or Review norms for participation and sharing. Emphasize that these protocols are a way to ensure that every voice is heard. If you are conducting conversations virtually, take some extra time to establish technical norms as well—for example, will participants use the “mute” button, raise hands, etc.?
  3. Conduct the protocols, including sharing any resources and engaging in conversation.
  4. Synthesize and Reflect on the content and process of the protocols. It is important to identify concrete take-aways and clear next steps. It is also important to give participants a chance to voice their feelings about participating.
  5. Follow up with participants in a timely fashion. Be transparent with how the conversation influenced any next steps or contributed to work. Encourage participants to do the same with each other.

Modifications, Variations, and Extensions

  • These conversation protocols can be adapted for younger audiences. Shorten activation “texts,” create smaller groups, and reduce the time in each discussion period to encourage younger learners to talk to each other.
  • While these protocols can be useful in single-session engagements, they become more powerful with repeated use. Even in repeat settings, continue to reflect on the protocol process as a way to measure the level of comfort the group has in honest discussion.
  • Adding audio, such as field recordings, will provide stimulus for learners who may not be able to see the visual stimulus well.
  • Check-in questions, ice-breakers in small groups, and similar activities before the more formal conversations are important for establishing trust and facilitating a safe space among groups that may not be used to working together or voicing their opinions.
  • In larger groups, consider “fishbowling” these conversations: as a smaller group discusses, others from the group can observe. Assign listening and recording tasks to observers, such as:
    • Identifying one idea that they had not considered before
    • Identifying one statement they agreed with very strongly
    • Counting the number of times each participant spoke
    • Counting the number of times one participant agreed with another
    • Counting the number of times one participant disagreed with another

When the protocol ends, ask the listeners to report on their notes before reflection. If possible, reverse rolls, allowing the observers to participate and the initial participants to observe.

The National Geographic Society is making this content available under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-SA license. The License excludes the National Geographic Logo (meaning the words National Geographic + the Yellow Border Logo) and any images that are included as part of each content piece. For clarity the Logo and images may not be removed, altered, or changed in any way.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Dan Byerly, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Bayan Atari, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

November 14, 2023

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