Maximize Learning with Student Discussion

Speaking is a vehicle by which learning happens. Students acquire language by first listening, then speaking, reading and last writing. When you are teaching a concept and think your students understand —ask them to explain it. How often do the ideas of the students become tangled and off topic?  When a child cannot clearly articulate the ideas you have taught—they do not fully understand or comprehend.

Simply having students talking through their ideas will increase learning and retention of the information.  Notice these statistics on retention of information:

Teaching Strategy Applied

Percent of Material Retained

Examples in the Classroom


Students share and re-teach someone else what they have learned





Reciprocal teaching and sharing of ideas by students


Student Practice What they Have Learned




Centers, students applying strategies while reading or math in small groups or independently

This often includes creating or producing a product



Group Discussion



Group discussion on a topic where teacher uses questioning and students share their ideas on the topic as well as the teacher provides corrective feedback when needed



Listening to a lecture with visuals and a demonstration




Direct Teaching with a PPT/Prezi or Flipchart

In addition teacher shows a video clip, demonstrates a concept or draws a picture to help students understand



Listening to a lecture with visuals




Direct Teaching with a PPT/Prezi or Flipchart



Reading Material





Reading an article and answering questions







Direct Teaching of Material (Teacher Talking)

(Statistics accessed from:

How can we ensure our students are maximizing learning?

Visuals and video clips add to learning but collaboration and sharing ideas elevates learning.  By combining listening, speaking, reading and writing into lessons; you are ensuring that students are actively engaged into the lesson. Sharing material increases the probability the information will be coded into memory by making neural connections.

Here are three easy activities that you can incorporate into your lessons daily to encourage discussion and increase learning.

 #1 Turn and Talk:  Simple I know!  Have students grouped so that everyone has a partner.  There are many configurations such as shoulder partners or face partners but any designated person will work. By designating the partners ahead of time you will have less downtime.  After you have taught a “chunk of information” say turn and talk. Have students turn to their partner and paraphrase what they are learning. After one person shares, the next person responds and shares their version.

#2 FRIEZE which is a fancy way of saying a “statue or decoration” created by your students. After you have taught information, a vocabulary word or concept, have students meet with a pre-designated group of 3-4 students. Students are charged with creating a still “statue or scene” that depicts the concept they have learned. The teacher than should take a picture with a device. Students work together to caption the photo and synthesize the information in written form to further deepen their learning.

#3 Sketch it and Talk it Out: After teaching a concept, students should sketch a visual. You should give no directions other than “sketch it.”  Students will have to process the information that they know and put it into their own thoughts. Next, the teacher should pair students after 3 minutes to share their sketch and explain their thoughts. To take it a step further you can have students caption the sketch for their partner and then defend their caption choice which takes it to the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy Framework.


These are simple activities that encourage students to think about what they are learning, synthesize that information and apply it by sharing it with someone else.  Students learning how to paraphrase and defend their thinking encourages retention of information. In October, I wrote a blog post about Read Aloud and shared a poster. I used to keep this up in the classroom with the following words: STOP Draw, STOP Act Out, Stop Jot, and Stop and Talk. These are the options students would participate in as we read and made notes in their reading journals.  This requires little to no prep except to have predetermined groupings or pairings for your students. Remember pairing learning with visuals increases retention forty two percent.


Wiggling students and springtime sunshine go together. Try out one or more of these strategies and see if you don’t get positive results. When students are in engaged in their learning and processing their own information instead of regurgitating back information positive results occur.

Why Student “TALK” Matters?

After receiving our Curriculum Visit feedback, I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring up the importance of student collaboration and discussion in our classroom across content areas.  You have heard it repeatedly….but do you understand WHY?  I didn’t!  So, I want to share what I have learned on my journey of understanding how “language” plays into our classroom instructional tool box.

toolbox2To set the stage, you need to keep in mind that there were three ELA “Shifts” in thinking with the new Common Core Standards.  The first was Balancing Informational Text with Literature which immerses our students into rich content vocabulary that require background knowledge or the ability to break down meaning from the text.  The second shift was that student Speaking, Reading and Writing would be grounded in text evidence.  By interacting with text repeatedly, our students are exploring the text at a deeper level through analyzing and synthesizing ideas or evaluating the ideas of others.  The final shift was to interact with complex text and Academic Language.   The words complex and academic probably jumped out at you!  By looking at these shifts, you can begin to see how important it is for us as teachers to scaffold learning so that our students can be successful as readers of complex text.  What does this scaffolding look like?


  • Modeling which uses LISTENING
  • Read Aloud which uses  LISTENING
  • Think Pair Share (collaborative work) which uses SPEAKING AND LISTENING
  • Activate Prior Knowledge which uses SPEAKING AND LISTENING
  • Questioning (Text Dependent) which use LISTENING, SPEAKING, READING AND WRITING

When you look at popular scaffolding strategies you see that they are embedding listening and speaking in each one. Even primary documents and graphic organizers are most effective when you pair them with speaking.  The speaking and listening piece allows our students to access the difficult text by having support while they process and think.  This shows the power of Language. We use the word “Language” often and what we mean by that is the communication of thoughts including reading and writing.  Listening and speaking are vehicles in which our students gain skills to read and write so they must master one while learning a topic before they tackle the next. We know when we are teaching something difficult such as electricity, our students must listen to gain knowledge, talk about it so that they can process the information, begin to read about it while talking to continue process and finally writing about it. If our students can write about a topic–they understand it. Each of these four domains (Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing) are interrelated and interact and affect one another–summation—these are reciprocal.

I read an article from Cornell University which highlighted collaborative learning as not just peer learning in groups and partners but extending to peer instruction where students are working together to help one another figure out problems and explain ideas in a student friendly language.  It explains that there are great benefits of collaborative learning including and increase in self esteem,  helping students see different perspectives from their own, increase in higher order thinking and oral communication.  The article showcased several teaching strategies which are worthy of checking out.  One I thought was interesting, was called a Fishbowl debate where students sit in groups of three and you assign them roles for a debate. Two people take opposing sides and the third person is the note taker and decides which debate is most compelling.  There are many ideas included in the article–bookmark it for a rainy day!

Also, the 40 Ways to Read Like a Detective resource created by NCDPI, is a great resource to help you scaffold instruction for your students and to infuse the four domains of language into your lessons. I will put a link to these in the resource section of this article.

In closure, by focusing on Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing as you teach and learning to move in and out of these domains while your students are learning–you are scaffolding instruction AND building conceptual understanding in your students.  It is talking that helps humans communicate and process ideas–so, my challenge to you this month is to make sure that in each lesson you have provided time for students to listen–speak to you and one another about what they are learning and reading.  When we are faculty meetings or professional development, we want to talk about things we are learning.  How often do we stop listening to the speaker to lean over and tell our neighbor our connection or idea about what he/she is saying. Our students are the same and need time to process their ideas.  As an added benefit, our students need extra opportunities to speak to one another because they do not get conversational language at home. They do not have background on how to ask good questions, how to follow up on a statement from someone else, how to disagree politely, etc.  So, check out the resources below and try something new out.



Kagan-Strategies-Desk-Mats  Conversational Group Work Mat for your desks. Remember that I shared a folder of several varieties of these in drive.

Capture This is an example of a SENTENCE FRAME I found. What a great way to help our students get their thoughts together. There are frames for inferences, comparing, contrasting, etc.  2012 all strategies 35 pages sentence frames

sentence starters for reader response (Sentence Frames for Reading and responding to text)

AccountableTalkFeaturesandLanguageStems  (Sentence starters for group work)

Accountable Talk Tool Kit (LOTS of resources here)

Text Structures with Graphic Organizers

40 Ways to Read Like a Detective












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