This year, I’ve been consistent with a framework for each day’s classes. I follow the Penny Kittle model of Read – Write – Study – Create – Share which is described in both Write Beside Them and Book Love.
A couple of weeks ago it occurred to me that while my students do talk during the “study” and “create” part of class, I could still incorporate more deliberate academic conversation. I was inspired by Buffy J. Hamilton’s twitter post about “knee to knee” conversation in her own classroom.
Her post inspired me to do some “knee to knee” work in my classroom, too.
Instead of the “write” portion of our schedule, I changed it to “talk” and we had some deliberate, structured, academic talk.
It didn’t take long, and the directions went like this:
- Partner up (for some classes, I chose the partners. For others, I let them choose. It was based on class dynamics).
- Take one minute to think about this: What’s worth talking about in your book? What do you notice? What matters?
- Partner A begins by talking about their independent reading book while partner B listens. Nonverbal communication is all that partner B can offer during this two minute section.
- Partner B responds with paraphrasing and offering their own opinion.
- Partner B continues by talking about their independent reading book while partner A listens. Nonverbal communication is all that partner A can offer during this two minute section.
- Partner A responds with paraphrasing and offering their own opinion.
- The class debriefs the experience together, and shares out their partner’s books when they think the class would be interested in adding these titles to the Next Reads Lists.
During the conversation, students should be “knee to knee” and not allow their backs to touch the backs of their chairs. This ensures that they are “leaning in” toward one another, and focused on communication with each other. It minimizes distractions and “noise” and encourages eye contact.
My seventh grade students enjoyed this structured conversation. They commented on the fact that it was difficult to sustain two minutes of talking sometimes, but that they also enjoyed sharing and listening when it comes to independent reading books.
They made connections with each other – for example, one set of partners discovered similarities with their books, as one student was reading The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and another was reading a nonfiction book about WWII.
Overall, the feedback from this activity was positive from students. It was good practice, getting over the “awkward” part of the conversation pushed them, and they were able to add to their next reads lists. They’ve asked if they can do it again, more often.
This simple activity doesn’t take much class time, and it doesn’t require any time to plan it in advance in the form of copies, accessing resources, etc. It’s something that can even be done on the spur of the moment.
I encourage teachers to put this simple strategy into their “back pockets” and pull it out and modify it on the fly. It’s fun, and kids learn.
How do you encourage “talk” in your classroom? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.
Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie