Turn and Talk

Turn and Talk

Here is an effective strategy that I find helps in keeping students engaged and actively thinking.  Isn’t that what we all want? 
Picture this:   Your class is fully involved in your lesson when you ask a question.  Students wait anxiously.  Some are thinking, “I hope she calls on me!” 


while others suddenly find religion and pray that you don’t notice them.  
After calling on the initial student, the students are most likely doing one of the following: pouting because they were not called on, thanking whatever religious figure they prescribe to, sleeping, or eagerly paying attention (clearly, this is the student we would choose to clone).  If not handled correctly, you run the risk of losing the attention of your class. 


When implemented correctly, the Turn and Talk routine can dramatically help. 

  • Everyone gets a turn to talk…who doesn’t love hearing their own voices?


  • Everyone is engaged and the talk is purposeful!


  • Students practice communicating, both active listening and speaking.


  • Students practice respect and manners.


  • Structured question and answering allows for better understanding of content.


What not to do:
 Allow the class to conduct open conversation concerning the given topic.  Can you imagine the chaos?  I can hear the screams, see the shoes flying, and smell the rug burn as students push, shove, and slide to be by their friend.  Turn and Talk allows a structured way for everyone to talk. 
Step 1:
Bring the class together on the carpet and choose a student (typically, one who listens well) to help model the routine.  Sit across from the student in a criss-cross applesauce posture; this will instill blinders and keep the focus on the partner.  While facing the student who is helping model, ask a question out loud so the entire class can hear.  Have the student answer.  Make sure to actively listen, you are on stage after all!  After the student finishes his or her answer, now it’s your turn.  Next, give your partner your answer.  Feel free to narrate what you are doing along the way.  Pause and…
Step 2:
… have the class comment on their observations of the Turn and Talk model.  You want the observations to come from them but ensure you frame the observation for the purposes of the model.  Select student responses that promote the model and write them on a chart (I term this the “noticings chart”).  Observations to be charted include: Mrs. Houston and the student were sitting knee to knee, they were keeping their eyes on each other, one person was talking at a time, they stayed on topic, and they were using inside voices.  If you have a kindergarten class, do not write on the chart “knee to knee”.  Draw stick figures to illustrate this.  This chart is for them to reference so it needs to be easily “read”.
Step 3:
Assign partners.  These partners should be someone they are sitting next to.  No need in spending too much time worrying about the levels and personalities of the students when pairing…they are simply going to quickly chat with one another.  It needs to be a swift movement so the students don’t move too much (movement is death in the classroom).  Be prepared to partner those who do not have a partner.  In my experience, it has always worked better to use myself as a partner instead of having a group of three. 
Step 4:
Practice!  Ask the students a question, making sure it’s an easy one, and tell them to turn and talk.  A common mistake many teachers make is they tend to teach the strategy and content at the same time.  Remember, the initial teaching point is to instruct the class on the proper procedure of turn and talk.  Once they have the process down, feel free to focus more on the content and start raising the level of questioning.    
Step 5:
PRAISE!  Be specific in your praise! “Sean and Mary, I love how you two faced each other the entire time!” “Casey and Grace, I’m so impressed with how you two stayed on topic!”  “Lydia, thank you for keeping your shoes on.  I know how hard that is for you.”  Review your “noticings chart” and ask the students how well they performed on all points.  The more you reference the chart and emphasize it, the more the students will use the chart. 
Like all of your routines, this needs to be practiced and praised often.  When this practice becomes a common classroom routine, the aforementioned “perks” will become obvious and apparent.
If it’s not gong well…

  • Make sure you’re keeping it short.   
  • Be aware of the topic changing from the assigned question to chatter.   
  • From my experience, students tended to wear down and get off topic if I pushed Turn and Talk to long. 
  • Give the class another question, choose one pair to model it for the class and ensure the class observes (ahhh, the fishbowl). 
  • Make sure you’re using questions the entire class can discuss.  If students feel inadequately prepared to respond, they may shut down or act out from embarrassment. 
  • Contact me!  I would love to help.  Leave a comment below.

Leave a comment below and tell me how you use Turn and Talk!
Happy Teaching!

Eager girl and sleeping class images courtesy of stockimages and praying boy image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, all found at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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