Student talk time is something that as a teacher of English Language Learners, I sometimes struggle with. I teach beginning level students, so when I expect student talk time, it's got to really be planned out carefully with sentence stems, modeling, and lots of practice and patience. It may not be perfect or what I wanted to hear, but if I can get my students to have a genuine conversation in English, I feel like a superhero.
Student talk time is not just important for ELs. It's important to hear the voices and ideas from all students to assess how they are learning and if they are on-track. And we can also learn a lot from our students as well! How do we as teachers go from worrying about students getting off-task or not contributing, to feeling like a superhero because there are real on-task and higher level thinking discussions happening? Michelle Price of mrspricewrites.com shares her research based strategies to help us implement more student talk.
Guest Post by Michelle Price
When my youngest son turned three, we really pushed for him to go to church class during service. He’s not really a distraction in service, but I wanted him to have that time to learn at his level and make more friends. However, he didn’t want to go. He wanted to sit with us. One Sunday, my mom was chatting with him and asked, “How are you going to learn about Jesus if you don’t go to class?” He looked her straight in the eye, pointed to the pastor, and said, “From church, grandma.”
Kids have a lot to say, and sometimes we underestimate what they have going on in their minds. This story drives home for me how important it is to give students the time to talk and interact with their own learning. If my three-year old is thinking logical thoughts about his own learning, I imagine how much more my older students are having intelligent ideas.
There is ongoing research to look at the effectiveness of allowing more student talk time (STT) and less teacher talk time (TTT). It is especially effective with our ELL students. Here is the why, the how, and practical resources to help you make it happen in your classroom.
Why STT Is Tough
Let’s be real. Allowing students more time to talk to each other can feel intimidating for many reasons of big and small concern. While teaching professional developments, I tend to hear teachers sharing the following concerns about increasing STT.
While there is merit to these concerns, there are also many researched-based solutions/suggestions to them.
Why We Must Foster STT in our Classrooms
To get technical, Vygotsky argues that speaking is an outpouring of thinking. One source describes his theories, “Talk - is the representation of thinking. As such, it seems reasonable to suggest that classrooms should be filled with talk, given that we want them filled with thinking.”
Another site explains that, “Most teachers say they speak for 40 to 50 per cent of the time. It is more like 80 per cent of the time…” If you combine the idea that talking is heavily correlated with thinking, and that teachers are talking way more than they estimate, we can infer that teachers are doing more of the thinking than students, and that’s just not what we want. Many professionals argue that, especially for our ELL students, talk time should be 80% students and 20% teacher.
There is absolutely a time and place for teacher talk time, but we must intentionally plan for more student talk time. Our default as teachers is to talk - it’s how we fill time, but we must ask ourselves - Who is doing the thinking in our class? Having a reflective practice is crucial to teacher growth, which impacts student growth.
Let’s look back at those common concerns through the eyes of researched-based practices and solutions.
What it comes downs down to is seeing the value of how we spend our time and wanting more bang for our buck. The book Visible Learning has helped me evaluate my practices.
What Does This Look Like?
It’s easy to prescribe the idea that we need to increase STT, but it can be difficult to implement. Below I’ll describe a few of my favorite was to increase STT and then follow up with resources that give a more in-depth view of protocols.
If the task is respectful to the students’ different learning levels, and it is scaffolded for those who may struggle, most of your students will engage. You will always have those few who fight, but I find that I can win the vast majority of them over by crafting lesson using the gradual release model. See Susan Anderson’s previous post explaining the details of lesson planning using this model.
Research Based Strategies to Increase STT
Tea Party - By Kylene Beers What If They Can’t Read
This pre-reading strategy gets kids up and moving, but more importantly gets them discussing the text before they read it.
The following excerpt can be found in its entirety here:
“To use this strategy, distribute index cards to each student with a phrase from the text written on it. Phrases may be repeated. Ask the students to begin the tea party-- move around the room, listen to other students' phrases, and share their own. Encourage them to have a discussion about what may be happening. Allow students to mingle for 8-12 minutes, or until the discussion dies down.
Then, ask students either independently, or in a group, to write "I/We Think" statements. These statements are the students' prediction of what the text will be about.”
I have used Kylene Beer’s strategy with all levels of students with great success. The students enjoy the movement, the chance to talk with each other, and willingly made predictions about the text. This is scaffolding for your ELL students and allows your GT students the chance to make more complex connections between the different index cards.
This is also a pre-reading strategy. It would work well for a variety of content areas, so share with innovative teachers on your campus.
Other suggestions to increase STT
The following books below have guided me in planning for more student talk time. Kagan structures lend themselves to a variety of topics and TTQQ helps provide structures for all students to get involved.
Michelle Price is the founder of the literacy blog www.mrspricewrites.com. She seeks to promote literacy by providing parents and teachers with resources. Her passion is to present engaging professional development to empower teachers in their own learning experiences. You can sign up for her literacy newsletter and resource updates here, or follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Administrator. “Teacher Talk Time and Student Talk Time.” Better Language
Ascd. “Chapter 1. Why Talk Is Important in Classrooms.” Manipulated Kids:
Teens Tell How Ads Influence Them - Educational Leadership,
“John Hattie: 'Teachers Must See Their Impact to Believe It'.” Tes, 8 May 2018,
“Let's Get Real!” Smore, 27 June 2018, www.smore.com/frq9b.
I support middle and high school teachers through monthly lesson plans, coaching, and guest speaker offerings in our Secondary ESL Teacher Membership.