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












2 Thoughts.

  1. Thank you for the resources. I think it can be frightning to have students talking, especially if the teacher is unable to listen to all the conversation. If we teach how we want students to talk about text, then it takes some of the fear out of the conversation.

  2. Good point! We have to give control up a bit which is a bit intimidating! I had not thought of that perspective! I use think pair share And turn and talk much more than full blown group work– maybe that is a first step– partner talk! Thanks Jennifer for the insight!

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