Unpacking the Power of Talk: Starting with What Matters Most

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When I began using the workshop model I didn’t truly understand the power that talk plays throughout the process. It was after reading the book, Talking, Drawing, Writing by Horn and Giacobbe, that I really began to give it the respect it deserves.

As a kindergarten teacher, I would spend the first several weeks of writing workshop modeling storytelling. As I modeled my own personal stories, I was also giving students a window into my life. When students began to share their own stories in the “sharing circle” it would become the start of a community of writers.

Talking within this community circle became a ritual. A place we could come together every day to share our thinking, celebrations, and process. What I realized then and know now is that putting an emphasis on talk took away the pressures of the paper and allowed students to become fluid with ideas. Building excitement and anticipation within the circle set up independent writing time in a way that provided students with an opportunity for more success when they went out to work on their own. When we are able to weave talk throughout the workshop experience, I believe students feel the value of their work and their confidence grows.


“Story is so central to the lives of young children that it comes close to defining their existence.” (The Storytelling Animal, How Stories Make us Human by Jonathan Gottschall). Students are motivated by stories. Often times, so eager to tell us stories that they are bursting when they walk in the door if we allow time and a listening ear.


When students know there is an expectation of talking, either with a peer, the class, or teacher they are held accountable for this work. Knowing that your writing partner, group or teacher are going to check in is highly motivating. These smaller communities also begin to understand that everyone has an off day. When talking is a part of the daily workshop, more often than not, students will be sharing their work. But it is important to point out that there is an understanding when you build these smaller communities that not every day is a good day for a writer and though we are accountable for our work, it is what we do daily that matters.


When we share pieces of ourselves with our writing community we begin to see patterns. Students can begin to identify with their peers, as well as share in new experiences. The use of intentional and designated time for talk allows students the opportunity to open up and get to the heart of their own identity.


Students are able to revise as they go, weeding through their ideas and unpacking the best parts of their story. As they talk through and rehearse their story, the organization of their ideas build themselves in a way that students are able to visualize before they begin drafting. Jotting and listing these ideas while talking begins the blocks of a plan from which to begin.


Often times, when telling a story, our voice emerges. The dialogue of the scene and exciting moments are shared verbally. When we are able to help  students capture these moments through verbal interaction it solidifies the importance of their voice within their writing.


As students talk through their writing and thinking, their writing community can encourage and encounter wonders. These wonders and questions push the writer to think more deeply about their topic. As peers and teachers ask questions for clarification it strengthens the writer’s thinking and clarity of their subject, creating a piece that is more solid throughout the process.

It Matters

As you begin the school year and think about what matters most within the workshop, consider making talk a priority. Even if you just begin small. Five minutes a day of intentional talk is better than no time at all. Build from this and watch what happens. I have learned over several years of workshop that talk is integral and necessary. I feel that talk is the backbone of my workshop environment and sets the stage for the writing that students will do on their own. Make time. Make it important. Make it matter.


  • This giveaway is for one copy of The First Six Weeks of School, 2nd Edition. Many thanks to Responsive Classroom for donating a copy of this book.
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