The turn-and-talk strategy is often used during minilessons. During a turn-and-talk, the teacher poses a question or concept and then asks students to turn to another learner and talk about it. Most adults realize that learners, regardless of their age and experience, are able to push their thinking and learn more powerfully if they can reflect on new ideas. Verbalizing is a powerful way to reflect and revise new learning. Here are some ideas for using turn-and-talks even more effectively in classrooms.
Make sure the question you are asking is one that warrants a discussion. If there’s an obvious answer to the question, then it probably isn’t a great one for a turn-and-talk.
Consider this chart:
Questions that will usually fizzle
Questions that have more potential for reflection and learning
Give students time to think before asking them to turn and talk. Cueing them to imagine what they might say to their partner before beginning the conversation is a powerful strategy, especially for your learners who sometimes need a little more time to process their thinking. Here are some sample cues for students:
- Learners, I’m going to ask you to discuss this question with your partner. Before I do, I want you to gather your thoughts.
- Before you begin your conversation, imagine what you’re going to say and how you’re going to listen.
- Plan some of your thinking for a few moments, and then I will cue you to begin your conversations.
Let students know that once their conversation is over, they should be quiet. This strategy lets people know to finish their talking time without you having to say anything because the room just naturally quiets down. It also lets you know if your question was a worthy turn-and-talk one, since if the room gets quiet quickly, you know there wasn’t much to say. One other perk of this strategy is that it minimizes the nonrelated, off-topic conversations that frequently happen when students aren’t sure what to say.
Every now and then, highlight a conversation. You can do this by taking a video of a partnership or by doing a fishbowl of a partnership. Either works, especially if you challenge the other students to actively notice the conversational strategies used by both partners. Many children do not know how to have a conversation, and it’s extremely beneficial to provide instruction for this lifelong skill.
Provide options beyond turn-and-talks. Instead of asking students to talk about what they are thinking, try asking them to write about their thoughts. I rarely see stop-and-jots in classrooms, and these are important opportunities for formative assessment. We can’t always hear every conversation, but we can take the time, if need be, to read responses.
Conversational skills require instruction and reminders. Make a chart about what good conversations look like, and refer to it often. It’s worth the time to teach.
I am indebted to Shana Frazin for introducing me to the concept of What am I doing that’s good, and how can I do it better? For me, the turn-and-talk strategy falls directly into the category of something I do that’s good but has several ways to be done better. Conversation is an important tool for learning, but only when it is used purposefully and intentionally.