Look Who’s Talking

All I Heard Was Crickets

I was excited about the lesson I designed for my classroom observation. Students were going to make predictions about a text we were going to read as a whole class. What could be more exciting? I projected a covered image and slowly revealed partial images of the picture. Students were asked to make predictions about the picture.

When I asked what the story might be about, one hand went up. I revealed another part of the picuture. Two hands went up. I repeated this process a few more time. Students were not participating. When my coach read back the transcript of my lesson I realized that I never gave students time to talk to each other. No one was given time to express their ideas, to make predictions, to test their ideas out before sharing with the whole class.

How many times have you asked students a question only to see a few hands raised? The class discussion becomes a conversation between you and a few students.  Students who are not participating look on, are disengaged and are allowed to become invisible.

As leaders of our classrooms we have a responsibility to engage our students – to facilitate and develop community and support students’ thinking about the content we are teaching.

We can ensure that students are engaged and belong by making sure that students have multiple opportunities to turn and talk about information we are teaching.

Who Is Talking To Whom?

Take a moment to consider is who is talking to whom? In other words, when students are at their seats, who are their assigned partners? When students are sitting at the carpet, who are their assigned partners?

We are granting permission not to be engaged when students are not assigned partners. If we tell students to choose a partner, students can opt out, or be excluded, or be too shy to reach out and find someone. As teachers, one of our responsibilities is to structure interaction and make sure everyone has someone to talk to. Try the ideas below to ensure engagement and participation.

Pair-Share Paraphrase

  • Assign students a partner and label each partner A and B.
  • Give students 60 seconds to answer a question (“What did you do over the weekend?”) and have Partner A share their answer.
  • Stop students after 60 seconds and ask Partner B to repeat back or “paraphrase” what Partner A said.
  • Repeat the process so that Partner B answers the same question and Partner A can “paraphrase” what Partner B said.

Numbered Heads Together

  • Number Students from 1-4.
  • Ask students to discuss a question you have posed.
  • Remind students to make sure everyone can answer the questions.
  • Call a number (1, 2, 3, or 4). The student stands and reports their answer to the whole class.

Milling To Music

  • Students move around the classroom as music is played. Students make eye contact with students and say “Hi, how are you?”. Students respond by saying “I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”
  • When the music stops, students stop and stand next to the person they are interacting with (this becomes their partner).
  • Pose a question for students to discuss, review a problem they have solved, explain a definition to a vocabulary word they have researched, etc.
  • Once the music starts again, students thank their partner for listening and move on greeting other students, until the music stops to answer the next question you pose.

Practice, Reflection, and Feedback

Building a strong classroom community takes work. Before using academic content, practice these strategies with students by using social prompts such as: My favorite season is… Someday I want to… After school I like to… My favorite food is… When I grow up I want to…, etc.  

Once you’ve facilitated an opportunity for students to talk to each other, ask students to reflect on the experience. How did it go? What was challenging? How did you feel? What would make the interaction even better?

Provide feedback to students by sharing what you noticed. Discuss students’ volume, body language, tone in conversation, and suggestions for improvement.

Students want to feel connected and included. A significant part of our classroom culture was rooted in student talk and collaboration. Give these strategies a try and let us know how it goes!


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