Turn and Talk

One of the greatest benefits I have had in my classroom, that encompasses all things literacy, has been the addition of purposeful talk. When it comes to inviting students to think and learn after a writing strategy or any other reflective work, talking is one of the most important strategies we can use.

When students are left on their own, they will talk. Communicating with others is a natural sociocultural human need. We need to move away from punishing students for talking too much and instead develop talking in the classroom as an integral part of the learning.   

Turning and talking to a person is a simple oral language support and strategy. It provides students scaffolded interactions to formulate ideas and share their thinking with others. It is a priceless strategy for building relationships, culture, and community in the classroom. Talking with peers is a low-risk activity that provides enriching peer level support and an authentic opportunity for students to develop independence and self-efficacy.

Selecting Talk Partners

In our classroom, the use of talk partners is scaffolded. Students can gradually move toward independently selecting their own “turn and talk” partners. There are countless ways in which to set up students to practice talking to peers. Three scaffolded ways I move students toward independently reaching out to others when needed are:

1. Teacher Selects Partners – Here is where we begin the school year. As we practice talk partners, I share the goal of independence, so students know where we are headed. 

2. Randomly Selected Partners – Gradually, we move towards pulling random partners and talking though what we will feel if any person in the classroom is selected to be our partner. 

3. Students Select Their Own Partners – This phase usually comes after four months into the school year. At this time, students can select their own talk partners, even change partners on their own to better fit their needs. It really is quite amazing to see students do this on their own and with respect for themselves and others. 

As an adult, educator, professional… I do not appreciate micromanagement or mandated instructions for my every classroom decision, and so I expect that my students may feel the same way. At about 3-4 months into the school year, and after consistent building of culture and community, we begin randomly selecting talk partners. And after 4-5 months, they practice selecting their own on occasion. Because of the nature of my dual language classroom environment, we typically keep talk partners for a period of two weeks.

After introducing a writing (or reading) strategy, I leave a small space for students to turn and talk. It typically sounds like, “please turn and talk…” Without hesitation, students turn and begin talking, using sentence stems or other conversation pieces previously introduced and visible on a nearby anchor chart. Students are given all the tools they will possibly need to stand on their own in a short conversation that will eventually grow into independent conversations regarding their learning.

Some skills we focus on while we learn to “turn and talk” are listed in the table below. 

When students turn and talk, they communicate a considerable amount through tone of voice, volume, and body language. It is important to share with students the impact of all that affects their ability to talk to another person. Every aspect of our practice to turn and talk includes specific modeling and visual reminders of what the strategy may look and sound like.  

How does “turn and talk” help students grow?

According to an article by Neil Mercer, Talk, Thinking and English Teaching, “when used in well-designed collaborative activities,” talk:

Oral language skills help build better thinkers, writers, and… humans. It is a lifelong practice. How are you practicing talk in the classroom with your students?