Getting students talking, really talking, to one another takes time. What also takes time is getting them to listen to one another, build on ideas and rethink their own. One way I manage what I know about students as speakers and listeners is through a checklist that allows me to track trends, jot notes as they say insightful or otherwise interesting things and make plans for future conversations.
Where do I get topics for our conversations?
- Texts we are reading together: poetry, novels, picture books, news articles and more.
- Their suggestions via sticky notes, the graffiti wall or simply a conversation I’ve had with someone that seems like a good idea for the bigger group.
- Current events: Kids know things about the world, let them talk about it!
What is the setup?
At the beginning of the year, I start with low-risk questions that build community but also show me what they have learned about discussion protocols in previous years.
- I print out a bunch of these, front-to-back or on scrap printer paper, and have them clipped together so I always have them handy.
- I sit far away from the conversation circle at first. Many will look where I am and try to get me to facilitate. I just smile and keep quiet (but of course get involved if something is troubling).
- They are in a circle, sometimes with benches or chairs, but mostly on the floor so the kids can see each other.
- I keep my checklist handy and mark as much as I can follow–this is harder during very passionate conversations or those where they have not yet mastered speaking and listening protocols that allow for single voices to be heard.
What if they don’t take turns? What if it is chaotic?
It’s going to be very messy at the beginning, especially if they have not done this work without the teacher before. Some will resort to being the teacher and tell students to raise their hands–I’ll jump in and say, “No hand raising.” Over time I’ll see that they are using previously learned sentence stems like “I agree with…” or “I’d like to add on to…” These can get old fast and I try to do a mini-lesson every now and then to teach new listening and speaking habits and introduce new ways of connecting ideas.
To me the chaos is part of the process–I try to think about my conversations with friends or the ways they speak in the cafeteria when adults are moderating. That’s the goal–for them to naturally find ways to enter the conversation, listen to ideas with interest and challenge each other respectfully.
They seem to have mastered the basic conversation norms: Look at the speaker. Use silent signals. Share ideas. But everyone is still not talking. What do I do?
This is why the checklist is so helpful. It helps me see what goals and next steps we need as a class and for individual students. I use goal cards (size of a business card) to have them track their participation and to help them hone a certain area within the speaking and listening standards. For example, my most vocal students will try to bring students into the conversation and pose questions rather than sharing their ideas alone. Other students who are still unsure about participating in large group convos are encouraged to restate ideas in their own words, share a new idea or use silent signals. Each student’s ring has their goal card along with various sentence stems that match their goals to give them something to try out in a conversation. I’ll share this resource in the fall so you can make it your own!
Also, I have had students keep track of the conversation with the checklist too–especially those who are still not responding to the idea of “leaving space for other voices.” This helps them be spectators and try to listen and gives them an important job!
Here is your free (and editable via google slides) speaking and listening checklist! It will prompt you to make a copy in your google drive and say DO IT!
Thanks for reading!