Establishing a
Culture of Talk:
Students in Talk
A Rigorous Discussion is about…
• Asking questions and posing
• Voicing ideas using evidence
• Listening to others
• Monitoring for rigor
• Responding to different ideas
• Constructing understanding
During the first weeks
of school, norms and
procedures need to be
established to create
a culture for talk.
These norms and
procedures need to be
posted and revisited
Provide students with
opportunities to practice
the types of rigorous
discussions in which
you expect them to
Begin slowly…
*Creating a culture of talk
can begin with partners,
groups, or the whole
new that we small
*The first discussions in your
classroom should
emphasize the discussion
process, rather than the
need to be
modeled and *Debrief to determine
what worked/didn’t
work in the discussion.
What are some
ways to model
and practice
norms and
Select a topic for the students to
*Ask two students to model a “partner share” using the
established norms and procedures.
*Practice active listening by asking one student to
summarize what another student said.
*Ask a group of students to “fishbowl” a
discussion, stopping frequently to talk with
the rest of the class about what they see
and hear.
After modeling or practicing has
occurred, ask the class what
they noticed about the
discussion process.
This helps students think
beyond the topic to how
a rigorous discussion
The students are familiar
with the norms and
procedures we’ve
developed for classroom
discussions. How do I share
my expectations for talk
in the classroom?
Pose a problem around
content – a math
concept, a dilemma
posed in a piece of
literature, a
When a few students raise their hands to
respond, the teacher can send a message about
the kind of classroom culture and the kind of
learning that’s going to occur in the class by
responding with something like:
“ I see Akira has her hand up with an idea and I see that Melea
and Jose have ideas. Tyrell has an idea and Corine has an idea.
I want to hear all of your ideas but I want you to remember that
it’s not just me you’re sharing with; it’s everyone in the class. So,
speak up so everyone can hear your idea. If you don’t have
your hand up, your job is to listen to the ideas your
classmates are sharing and decide if you agree or
disagree with what they are saying. “
How do I help my
students develop
effective discussion
Turn and Talk strategy is useful when
lots of students have ideas to share.
The teacher says: “Turn to your
neighbor/partner and tell them
what your thoughts are about….”
The teacher then asks one member of the pair to
summarize the discussion they had. Or, when active
listening skills are to be reinforced, the teacher
might ask a member of the pair to relate what
their partner said to them.
Journal Jot is a strategy teachers use
when they want to give students an
opportunity to collect and write
their thoughts before sharing them
out with the class. The teacher says:
“Take a few minutes to write your
thoughts about….”
When students have completed their writing, the
teacher asks them to share it with partners, small
groups, or the whole class and invites students to
respond to one another.
Value Line Up is a strategy used by teachers when
they want students to appreciate the differing views
people have around a variety of topics/issues. The
teacher says: “I’d like you to form a line across the
front of the classroom. If you strongly agree, stand
near this end of the line based on how strong your
belief is. If you disagree, do the same at the
opposite end of the line.”
The teacher can then invite individuals share their view with the
class and ask participants to change their location on the line as their
views shift on this issue.
Or, the teacher can “fold” the line in half, and invite
participants to share their views with someone with an
opposite view. This helps develop active listening skills.
Choose A Side is similar to Value Line
Up. But, in this case, the teacher simply
asks students to choose a side of the
room to sit on that coincides with their
beliefs about a rigorous topic or
problem. During the ensuing
discussion, students are invited to
move to the other side of the room
if a point made during the discussion
sways their view.
Pass the Hat is a strategy teachers use to
encourage students who might otherwise
be hesitant to ask questions they have
about complex ideas to pose these to the
class. The teacher says: “I’m passing a
hat around the room. Place questions
you would like the class to address in
the hat.”
The teacher then selects questions from the hat to use in
launching and maintaining the discussion asking students for
evidence from the rigorous text/problem to support their
Bell Ringers are often used by teachers as warm
up activities. At the beginning of the class, the
teacher posts an open-ended question/
problem on the blackboard for students to
work on independently and then talk with a
partner/small group about. This talk is a way to
launch the lesson; students engage in critical
thinking around a concept they will be working
with during the day’s learning. The teacher asks
students to share ideas with the class, noting
evidence of prior knowledge, connections, or
misconceptions to adapt the lesson as needed.
Role Play is a way to provide practice for
behaviors the teacher wants the class to engage
in. Sometimes this is done “fishbowl” style with
a group of students acting out a strategy, norm.
or procedure in front of the class with the
teacher stopping the action frequently to talk
about what the class is seeing/hearing. At other
times, the teacher might ask small groups or
pairs to practice a behavior simultaneously,
stopping along the way or debriefing
afterwards to determine what worked/didn’t
work and make adaptations as needed.
Additional strategies
teachers use in promoting
talk in the classroom are
available by contacting us
How do I ensure
that students are
respectful while
Disagreements and inappropriate responses
are opportunities for teaching. Talk about
these matter-of-factly:
“Jamal, you rolled your eyes, sighed loudly, and said ’That’s dumb’
when Rosa said she thinks that sometimes slavery can be a good
thing. I’m glad you were listening and reacting to what was being
said. But I’m wondering if we need to add to our norms and
develop some ways we can respectfully disagree with one
another. Instead of grunting, rolling eyes, or yelling something
like ‘That’s dumb’ which might shut someone down who has very
good ideas but having difficulty expressing them (or someone
who really is wrong who might benefit from hearing your
divergent ideas), how could we handle differences of
What makes this
an opportunity
for learning?
The teacher can accept student ideas
and “give them a try” for a few
days, directing students who
disagree to use the protocol
developed by the class.
The teacher might model the type
of interactions they are hoping
for the students to engage in.
The teacher can encourage the student who disagrees
to restate the other student’s idea, ask that student if
the interpretation is correct, and then offer their own
idea with evidence to back it up:
Jamal: “Rosa, I think I heard you say that there are situations where
slavery is okay. Is that correct?”
Rosa: “Yes, in situations where someone has no means of supporting
themselves, no skills to get their own job because they’re in a foreign
culture where they don’t know the native language…
Jamal: “Well, I’m thinking that slavery is always wrong because they
wouldn’t be in that foreign culture if someone hadn’t taken them against
their will in the first place. On page 64 of the book it said that the kids had
been torn from their mother’s arms and left to fend for themselves as
she was thrown on a ship.”
The students gain a
better understanding of
one another’s point of
view while learning
important social
communication skills.
How can I make
talk equitable in
the classroom?
Not all students are comfortable
sharing their ideas in a public forum.
You need to decide if it’s okay for
them to be engaged through just
listening. They might later share
their understandings one on one or
in writing.
Some teachers…
*Call on students with hands up
*Pull sticks with names on
*Write names on a sheet of paper, as students raise
hands, acknowledging with a nod that they wrote
the name down. This frees the student to lower
their hand and listen until the teacher calls on them.
Students learn to jot ideas down so they don’t
forget them. When called on, they say something
like “I want to respond to what Carlos said a few
minutes ago about ….” Or, “I was going to
make a point about….. but Alex already did.”
Are there tools the
students can use
independently to
make talk
Some teachers:
• Provide two sided chips for students to flip; green means “I have
something to contribute” and red means “I’m listening and
processing what is being said”.
• Give students two-sided paddles to hold up with agree/disagree
sides, smiley/confused faces, or question/connection for
students to raise in indicating their participation.
• Use speaker props – a ball or microphone for the speaker to
hold; once students are ready to begin the discussion, the group
is called to order when the teacher takes out the “discussion
prop.” Once the discussion begins, only the person with the prop
may speak.
How do I
students to
their ideas?
Prepare Ahead of Time:
Developing open-ended, higher level questions before the
discussion helps to develop critical thinking skills. Bloom’s
Taxonomy is a great resource to learn how to write
Assigning a reading, math problem, or science
experiment before the discussion and telling the
students they’ll be expected to share their understandings with one another helps them come prepared
with their ideas in their heads or jotted down .
Learning how to “press” students to explain or develop
their ideas helps to deepen their understanding.
What do you mean
by “press”?
Teacher Press Examples:
Teacher Press refers to
really listening to your
students’ responses and
asking them to “tell me
more” or “give an
example” or “say it
another way” when
their ideas are unclear or
need further
development. New
questions often stem
from these exchanges.
These also serve as
places where students
often agree/disagree
with one another while
deepening content
• In what ways could you apply this
learning to a new situation?
• Can you tell me more about…?
• How will you/did you figure out ….?
• Can you help me to see how this is
different/the same as… ?
• I’m fascinated by …. Tell me more.
• What do you mean when you say ….?
• How can you help us understand
what you are thinking?
• Can you think of another way you
• What are the important ideas
or processes involved in
this problem?
Research shows a link between
engaging students in talking
about their learning through
classroom discussions and
higher student achievement.
Teachers can impact student
test scores while deepening
content knowledge.
For more information on
Launch into Teaching,
contact us at:
Launch into Teaching
303 Erickson Hall
East Lansing, Michigan 48824-1034
[email protected]

Establishing a Culture of Talk