Talk is one of the most powerful tools at work in my classroom. Now, I’m talking about talk—not discussion, sharing, peer editing, Socratic seminars, think-pair-share, or any other structured form of communication that might occur. The simple act of letting our students just talk is invaluable, and we must create spaces in our curriculum for it to take place. Here are three ways I encourage talk in my classroom.
Conferences – Reading and writing conferences aren’t just about assessment. They’re also a valuable time for teachers and students to just talk to one another, getting to know each other as the humans that we are. Creating a space for talk breaks down the teacher-student barrier, humanizes both parties, and by and large erases discipline problems in my classroom. I begin every conference with a simple, “How are you today?”, and after genuinely listening for the child’s answer, direct the conference from there. Some conferences, we don’t talk about books or writing–we just talk, because the student needs to.
Book Clubs – Not every book club meeting requires structure or an agenda to be valuable. During this most recent unit, I simply asked students to keep the conversation going for 20 straight minutes. They sometimes had to cast about for topics, but they always found something to discuss–mostly their books, but often text-to-text/self/world connections they’d made, which spun off into generalized, real-life conversations between kids who wouldn’t ordinarily find themselves chatting. After finishing book clubs, Ana wrote, “I loved our book clubs because I felt like I got to know everyone better.” She wrote other things about how she grew as a reader and writer…but she LOVED the unit because of the TALK that happened.
Root of the Writing Process – My journalism students consistently talk out their ideas at the very beginning of the writing process. They chat in groups, usually starting with, “so what should I write about?” It takes a few minutes, but enlightenment inevitably follows–the other day, Shay threw a few silly ideas out for Kenleigh about bathroom graffiti, but then they got serious about that as a story idea. “You could call your piece ‘Signs from the Stalls,'” Shay said. “AHHHH, that’s a great idea!!” Kenleigh enthused. What kids like to talk about is often what they’d like to write about, and they need to talk to get to the heart of those topic ideas.
Talk builds community. Talk is the tool that made my former student Emily say, “I felt like by the end of the year, everyone in the class became my best friend, including you.”
How do you see talk improving your classroom and its community? What spaces do you create for talk in your classes?