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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Encourage Talking in the Classroom! (Yes, really!)

So many times, kids at school are expected to be quiet. And I do this, too- my students need to be quiet in the hallway, quiet during work times...

I feel like I'm talking about the Milford Academy from Arrested Development. Anyone?

But I also try to build some talking time into my day, particularly for my language learners, because, really, talking is SO important.

Two years ago, my class was about 1/4 ESL, but all Spanish speakers of varying English skills. Even still, the other non-ESL students generally had a low level of vocabulary, probably because the school was low-income. This year, in a higher-income school, many of my students spoke at least one other language, but they were from India, Germany, Korea, Russia, Morocco, Canada, and all over the world.

Two very different classes of very different families, but in both cases, opportunities for talking in the classroom make such a huge difference. And I've found that not only do they help the ESL kids, but they help all kids explain their thinking, build vocabulary, and learn better social skills (especially given a structure). Plus, so many times, I'm able to use talking times as informal assessment, and having talking times helps students stick to the quiet times.

Our district ESL coordinator gave us a few activities that are perfect for talking during the day while also using content, and I want to share them with you!

Think- Pair- Share
Surely, this is something you already use. Basically, give students a moment to think (I always have them mime "putting on their thinking caps") and then pair up to discuss, and then share. Sometimes, I have them share what their partner said, to encourage good listening.

Examples: What do you think the character will do next? Which strategy could I use to solve this math problem?

Four Corners
Choose a question with four possible answers, one for each corner of the room. Then, send students to go to the one that matches their answer and then share justifications for their choice. A dollar store play microphone makes this much more fun. (As an added bonus, the kids are up and moving, and the activity doesn't have to take very long!)

Examples: What is your favorite season? Which operation should I use to solve this problem?

Inside-Outside Circle
Have half of your class make a tight circle. Then tell everyone else to stand facing someone else, making an outside circle. Have the students rotate and talk to each other student.

Examples: Hold a solid. When you rotate, find 1 similarity and 2 differences between your shapes. Choose a science vocabulary word or historical figure and rotate, giving clues until your partner can guess what's on your card.

Value Lines
Ask a question without a yes or no answer, and let students line up along a line on the floor. (I use painter's tape- comes right up on carpet or tile!) They can stand at either end, or somewhere in the middle, and then go to a few students to have them justify their placement on the line.

Examples: Do you think Harriet's friends in Harriet the Spy should have forgived her for what she wrote in the book? In the Civil War, do you think the South was fair to try to secede from the Union?

As you can see- you're getting students talking, but also using such great higher-level thinking skills. They're the kind of strategies that can be used across all grade levels, content areas, and language levels. AND they get kids up and moving!

Do you use any strategies like these in your classroom? I'd love to add some ideas!


  1. I agree with encouraging talking in the classroom. I think it fuels a lot of essential learning and higher order thinking. Great post!
    Learning Is Something to Treasure

  2. I completely agree! I make sure to give my students tons of opportunities to talk. I believe it is apart of our human nature to be social and when you try to go against that there is chaos or a loss of engagement. I love your blog and am your newest follower! I would love it you could come check me out.

    005 Watkins' Way

  3. Thanks for sharing such great ideas!


  4. Love these ideas :) I have used the value line and think-pair-share. I love how you have them share their PARTNER's answer. Cleaver!

  5. Love your ideas! I've nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award! Stop by my blog to pick it up.
    Totally Terrific in Texas

  6. We love quiz quiz trade for spelling!!!
    Katie & Lisen :)


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