Students. Love. To. Talk. Whether it’s to each other, to themselves, or to a classroom visitor, young people are heavily invested in knowing more about the world and people around them. Sometimes to the chagrin of educators, these quests for knowledge can happen at inopportune times in instruction. How, then, can we leverage this propensity for conversation as part of our lessons? Our three-step model for designing student interactions, Varied Levels of Interaction, can help.
Before we can ask students to engage in academic talk, we need to grant them time and space to determine what ideas they will bring to the conversation.
In this level of interaction, we do three things:
Present students with an open-ended prompt (yes/no questions don’t invite a lot of conversation –but “I agree/disagree because…..” does)
Allow students time and space to develop their own thinking in response to the prompt. This could take the form of:
This first level is all about students taking time to prepare something to bring to the table. In the next level, they’ll share what they’ve made.
Here is where the first round of academic talk takes place – in small groups of 2-4 students. Students are asked to share their thinking in response to the prompt; this also gives them a structured opportunity to hear and gather the thinking of others to supplement and/or confirm their own thinking.
Key considerations at this level include:
At this level, we provide students a structure for a rich conversation about the topic at hand. After sharing and testing their thinking with each other, they’ll be asked to share their thinking with a broader audience.
This third level is what gives the other two levels their “reason to live.” At this level, students are expected to share some aspect of their small-group conversation with the class. Knowing that they can be held publicly accountable for their work and thinking often prompts them to be more engaged in the first two steps.
Here are some considerations for this level:
As groups share their thinking with the class, it allows both the teacher and the audience the opportunity to explore how others came to their conclusions. This provides an excellent vehicle for formative assessment and can indicate where adjustments might be needed in the remainder of the lesson.
Encouraging meaningful academic conversations is much more than simply asking students to turn-and-talk. Instead, when we present students with a thoughtful design for the activity, we can ensure that they remain actively engaged—both with the learning, and with their peers.