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Achieve Purposeful Classroom Dialogue with Turn and Talk

by Model Teaching | September 24, 2017.

Many students fall into one of two categories: the chatty ones that need to socialize frequently, or the shy and quiet students that don’t speak up. Turn and Talk is a strategy that benefits both types of learners, and can be adapted for any content area and grade level. When students turn and talk, you are providing the naturally talkative ones with content-based purpose, and you are providing the quieter kids the scaffolding and confidence they need to have a thoughtful two-way conversation with a fellow student. Turn and Talk is a tool every teacher needs!

Turn & Talk

PICTURE THIS: In my third grade classroom of 22 students, we are all gathered on the carpet for a read-aloud. On this particular day, I am sharing My Mama Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Gray, and we are working on visualizing while we read.

On my first read-through of the book, I don’t share the illustrations with my students, much to their concern. Instead, I ask them to visualize what the author is saying. I encourage them to paint a picture in their mind, thinking about what they see, hear, and feel. Finally, my students hear the words they have grown to love…”Turn and talk with your shoulder partner. Take turns describing what you saw, heard, and felt when I read those last 2 pages.” While they share their visualizations, I roam the room listening in on these conversations. After a couple of minutes, I use my verbal signal, “Back to me,” to quiet the conversations and get their attention back to me. I show them the actual illustration and we have a brief class discussion of how the picture compares to their visualizations. I close by reminding them that good readers visualize while they read, and send them off to read with this challenge: “While you are reading today, I want you to do 2 or 3 quick sketches on sticky notes of what you visualized while you were reading. Be ready to share 1 of these with your reading partner tomorrow.” Since they have had a recent opportunity to talk, they are more likely to get started on their independent work, without a lot of chatter.

This turn and talk strategy works for any subject, and any grade level. Imagine a hands-on science investigation comparing a cactus and a flowering plant. Your students could turn and talk to compare and contrast the features of each plant. If you see a pair struggling, you can provide a detailed sentence stem such as “I observed the roots of the cactus to be __________________, but the roots of the flowering plant were _______________.” or “A cactus and a flowering plant have __________________ in common.”

In math, you can have students choose their favorite mental math strategy for solving an addition problem, and defend their choice to a partner. In history, after researching inventions, you could have students discuss what they felt was the most important invention. In writing, you can have students offer two compliments and one suggestion for their partner’s shared writing. The possibilities are truly endless, see the attached Turn and Talk Prompts resource for many more ideas!

Here are some practical tips so you can implement this useful strategy in your classroom.

What does Turn and Talk look like?

If students are on the floor, they would physically turn their bodies to face their partner, sitting knee to knee, but keeping their hands to themselves. If they are sitting at desks, they should angle their chairs toward each other. Encourage them to make eye contact with their partner.

What does Turn and Talk sound like?

Students use a quiet voice, so as not to disturb other pairs. They do not interrupt or talk over each other, but instead use their active listening skills to really take in what their partner shares, and then respond to that.

What groundwork do I need to lay before I can use Turn and Talk?

It is critical to have a strong classroom community before you try this. In other words, don’t do it on the first day of school! Take time to establish an environment where every student feels safe and that their voice matters. You also need to have a signal established for getting the attention of every student quickly and quietly.

How should I pair my students?

This may vary each time you use the Turn and Talk strategy. You might use shoulder partners (students who are sitting next to each other) or face partners (students sitting across from each other). You may need to preplan some ability grouping, pairing each student with someone who is working at a similar academic level. At times, you might want to pair a high achieving student with one who is struggling. In some cases, you might just let them choose their own partners!

What do I do while they are talking?

This is the most important piece, as you can gather data to drive your future instruction! While the pairs are talking, you need to be actively roaming and listening in. I keep a class list on a clipboard with me and make notes of what I am hearing. If you see that one person is monopolizing the conversation, you’ll need to join in and let them know you are eager to hear what the other student has to say. If you hear misconceptions, you might choose to correct them at that time, or just jot them down and address them with the whole class. If you hear something particularly profound, jot it down to save for the wrap-up.

How do I get their attention when it is time to stop?

This will be unique to your teaching style. You may have a chime to play, use a countdown clock, give a hand signal, or have a verbal signal such as, “Back to me.”

How do I wrap it all up?

Once you have the attention of everyone, you can share some of the statements you overheard. You may even want to call on certain students and have them share their thoughts. This is a great opportunity to build the confidence of a shy student, especially if you let them know ahead of time that you think what they said is important enough for everyone to hear. This is also a time to clear up any misconceptions on the material discussed. At times, you may want to have written evidence of the discussion and you might ask students to record their discussion contribution in a journal, or on an exit ticket.

Why should I do this?

There are so many benefits of purposeful student dialogue. First and foremost, it builds classroom community and student relationships, and provides an opportunity for all to participate. Turn and Talk increases student engagement, and students find it less stress-inducing than speaking in front of the whole class. This is an opportunity for students to learn from each other, and they truly are our greatest resource!

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Turn & Talk Prompts

This resource provides lists of turn and talk prompts for several different subject-areas. Note, it is not a comprehensive list, however, can help serve as a guide to help you get started with your unique students.

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