Classroom talk techniques

Classroom techniques useful for promoting speaking and listening.

1. Think, pair, share

Think, pair, share is an easy and engaging talk technique. At any stage of the lesson, students may be asked to ‘turn and talk’. The purpose of the technique may vary. At the beginning of a lesson, students may be asked to think, pair, share early connections or predictions. During an inquiry, students may be asked to share ideas, challenges or opinions. While at the end of a unit of work, students might share their reflections.

Some question starters that could be used for a think, pair, share task:

  • Explain why…
  • Tell me how…
  • Compare…..with…
  • What are the pluses and minuses of…?
  • Describe…
  • What predictions can you share about…?
  • What are the three key ideas about?

For more extended talk, partners match up with another set of partners, forming groups of four and compare their discussion.

2. Doughnut Sharing

When the goal is for the rapid sharing of ideas, with multiple people, the doughnut sharing technique is appropriate. This technique involves a large group of students, such as the whole class, forming two circles – an inner circle and an outer circle. Students in the inner and outer circle find partners and face each other.

The teacher poses a question or provides a statement for discussion and students have a minute to discuss. A signal is given and the students in the outer circle take one step to the right, resulting in new partner formations. Either the same or a new question/statement is given. This process is repeated.

The doughnut technique is useful for the generation of ideas, perhaps before an individual brainstorm. It is also useful for recalling information, sharing anecdotes or offering opinions.

3. Talk tokens

Although research has recognised that student engagement in dialogic talk, where students initiate questions and seek responses is an enabling strategy (Alexander, 2006), not all students participate or participate effectively.

Organising whole or small group talk interactions may require a management strategy to encourage participation of all students. Establishing the ground rules for talk and focusing on accountable talk are necessary areas to explore and re-visit with students. However, some classroom groupings include students who dominate talk or conversely are reluctant to participate. Both groups could benefit from a management strategy that makes participation explicit.

Providing each member of the group with a few tokens or counters is a useful technique, when establishing the protocols for talk in the classroom, or encouraging fair participation. Each group member is provided with a few tokens. Each time a contribution is made, the student places aside a token. When all tokens have been placed aside, the student is no longer able to contribute to the discussion. Two colour tokens may be given, one to represent talk contributions and the other to represent questions to pose to the group.

The use of talk tokens should be considered a scaffolding measure, which is put in place to help students manage their talk and removed once students conduct dialogic discussions with some independence.

4. Jigsaw expert groups

The jigsaw strategy is one which can be employed when students need to explore a range of materials or texts. When participating in this strategy, a topic is divided into sub topics.

For example: Groups of four students are formed. A Level 2 study of minibeasts may be divided into sub topics of insects, arachnids, molluscs and annelids.

Each student from the group separates and moves to a different area of the room to form an ‘expert’ group. Each ‘expert’ group researches, notates and discusses content on one of the subgroups and becomes an ‘expert’ on that sub topic.

A graphic organiser, such as a cross classification chart, is useful for students’ notetaking. After students become experts, individual members return to their original groupings, which should now contain four experts in different fields. Group members then share their knowledge.