Ways to Get Your Students Talking (The Good Kind of Talking)

It’s time to take back the classroom. Too often we hear of teachers that teach 90% of their day with their students staying in one spot. And we get it, the chaos that ensues from moving around can be overwhelming, to say the least. But we also know there is a tremendous amount of research out there that supports students learning better when they are able to discuss with their peers and are able to have varied environments. 

“But Toluca, by the time I get everyone moved around, calmed down, and ready to listen, I have wasted half my lesson time.” I hear you and I have some suggestions that I think will help!

Pre-Talk Your Lesson 

One thing I have found about a new lesson is that it can bring about a lot of excitement initially. The kids want to tell you about a personal story that relates to the topic or all the things they already know about the topic, which is great! Although, if you’re unprepared for all the word vomit they are dishing out, it can be a bit chaotic. 

Instead, embrace the word vomit🤔

At the beginning of a new lesson allow time where the students can talk to partners or in groups about everything they already know on this topic. Just let them run with everything that comes to mind for them on this topic. While some of what they think they know might be slightly incorrect or completely unrelated, this practice serves two purposes. First, it allows them to get all those new lesson jitters out. They get to tell someone all the things they are dying to share related to the lesson. Second, it gets them thinking about the topic in a fun way. There is no pressure and they are just sharing things they already know.

 I like to hold an “inquiry session” where I chart questions and comments that students share. First, I have structured time for them to look at pictures of a topic, talk to peers about them, and then I call on pairs of individuals to share questions and comments with the whole class. We chart this and then refer back to this exploratory classroom artifact as we progress through a unit of study. 

Another great activity is one I use called “Lift-a-Line”. Students choose a line from the text that resonates with them and write about why they selected this line. This is great to do in pairs or discuss in small groups. It can be a more managed way of tackling the word vomit, and it also encourages using direct quotations from a text. Win-win! This resource is available for free on Day 1 of the Five Days of Benchmark Freebies. Sign up below to begin receiving your freebies:

Plan Your Placement 

This tip may take a little bit of practice upfront but is well worth it. When I ask students to travel the room or to turn to talk to partners, I have more success when setting it up a particular way. First, I call all my kids up the carpet (yes, even big kids can still come to sit on the carpet). I have them sit in assigned seats and rows so that everyone has a partner or group they can turn to. Here’s a little diagram to represent my seating strategy. 

You can assign each pair of students a letter or even a color to identify by. When it is time for the collaborative conversation, you would say something like, “Turn to face your elbow partners and B students talk first.”

You can also have groups of four turn together to discuss the topic at hand.  This means ONLY 1 row is required to turn while the other stays where they are seated. The seating pattern can also be set up for pods or groups (shown by the yellow square). When I do this, I say something like, “Odd rows, turn around to face the even rows.”

Pro Tip: If you have an odd number of students, make sure those students know which group or row they belong to when it is time to turn and talk. I always end up with an odd number of students and too many students to sit on the carpet. These outliers sit at desks or chairs around and behind the carpet, so I spend time teaching those students exactly how to travel to their assigned partner or their assigned group when it’s time to talk.

A great way to introduce this idea is to look at your seat currently. I have found some really great (and cheap) ways to incorporate different seating elements in my classrooms. I have a great blog post here with some personal solutions and tips for making it affordable. 

Order of Operations

This is probably one of the simplest changes to make, but it is the most impactful. This has to do with what information you give to your students and when, especially if there is any moving around involved. Prior to this method, I would give them their prompt and then tell the students to “travel” (i.e. turn to your partner, turn to your group). By the time they got situated, they had already forgotten the prompt and were too busy telling Ani how much they liked her hair clip. 🤦

Instead, I now do it in reverse. I first tell them they are going to turn to their partner in a minute to discuss a certain topic. They then move quickly and quietly to get settled, and then they give their attention back to me. Only then do I give them the specific prompt to talk about. This helps them get the jitters out on the front side and can then return to the task at hand. This allows me to control the transition so that there isn’t lost time in the process.

A great example of using this method is shown in my Musical Papers Collaborative Peer Editing Game. Check out this blog post that describes how I structure the game to give the direction after they know how they will be moving.  It’s a great place to start with all the directions provided if you are ready to put some more collaborative activities into your lesson plan. 

I hope you give some of these strategies a try and that they help you take back your classroom! If you give them a try, make sure to drop a comment and tell me how they worked for you! 

Hi! I’m Toluca from Markers and Minions, where I help teachers feel more effective and confident with high-quality resources and an awesome teacher community!

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