Increasing Student Led Discussion

I’ll never forget during my clinical practice, after a pretty average and I’ll admit unengaging lesson delivered by yours truly, my university supervisor told me something along the lines of “you needed to talk less.” 

“How can you talk too much when you're teaching” I thought to myself. But, since the very start of my teaching career I’ve been aware of just how receptive teachers need to be to feedback in order to really support their kids. 

So, I let it sink in.

Less teacher talk. 

And then, I did some research, and instantly put what I found into action with my 2nd grade students. I fell in love with the concept of student led discussion after about two seconds of implementing it. That thing we love as teachers, getting to see our babies grow and learn, that was happening right in front of my eyes. 

Of course, this ran SUPER smoothly from the get go, because my amazing cooperating teacher had already laid the ground work. Once I attempted to implement it with my small intervention group the following year, I realized it's not as easy as I thought. It was going to take some work and a whole lot of consistency. I needed to see that it could work in order to make this to make it an everlasting part of my instruction, and I did.

My first two years of teaching have consisted of small group instruction in grades Kindergarten through 5, and “less teacher talk” has been a goal of mine, which ultimately lends itself to those fancier terms like “student led discussion” and “accountable talk.”

So, here’s how I’ve been putting it all into play:

Model Quickly and Effectively 

Even after that not-so-engaging lesson during clinical practice. I still have lessons where I feel as though I start to drudge on because I feel like my small group isn’t getting it. But, I have to remind myself to keep it short and sweet. I plan ahead and anticipate misconceptions, I can model quickly and then slowly release responsibility to my students. 

After talking to my curriculum supervisor where I currently work, I have worked out that students are either going to grasp it from my modeling, or they’re not. So repeatedly modeling the same thing in the hopes that it is going to somehow click for any struggling students is only doing one of two things: boring them or frustrating them. 

So, be sure to plan ahead. Anticipate misconceptions and work them into your modeling. Then do some guided practice with your group and implement the following strategies:

If you still have students struggling to grasp the standards, meet with them during independent practice to help work out any difficulties they are having.

Constant Praise for Ideas/Positive Correction

It’s really important that kids are encouraged to make mistakes. I think praising them for what they say, right or wrong, is a really important part of that. Of course, there is a balance. You’re not going to tell a student who took a complete wrong turn “Wow, Johnnie! Good Job!” because that could lead to misconceptions. But, there is still a way to praise Johnnie for sharing his ideas. There are a lot of different ways you can praise a student’s attempt at an answer, even if it’s wrong.

For example:​

                           “I can see how you thought we should add since it asked 'How many more than,' but we are going to use a different math operation here, would you like some more think time?”


                           “Nice try, Johnnie but we’re looking for something a little different”

                           “I’m proud of you for sharing your idea, let’s hear from a few more students”

"I see what you're thinking, but let's listen in to a few other ideas and see what they think!"

Once you cycle through a few students and find the correct answer, be sure to check in with the friends who gave that incorrect answer. It is important to be consistent with praise for your students, so they continue to want to share even after getting answers incorrect. Implementing a growth mindset structured classroom will also help with this. 

Modeling Accountable Talk & Using Anchor Charts

Accountable Talk

Students should hear your accountable talk in order to use it on their own. That means that teachers should be modeling phrases during instruction such as:

“I know this is true because…”

                          “I found my answer by…”

                          “I agree with because…”

                          “I disagree with because…”

                          “This reminded me of…”

Students should also hear teachers modeling questions that align with accountable talk so that they are able to successfully communicate their ideas with one another:​​

“I don’t fully understand; can you explain more?”

“Why do you think that?”

“Could it also be that…?”

“Where did you find that information?”

“Can you tell me more?”

“Can you give me an example of what you mean?”

Along with modeling it, teachers should have posters, anchor charts, bulletins, etc. somewhere in their classroom for students to reference these phrases. 

Teachers pay teachers has a lot of really great bulletin materials with accountable talk phrases, and plenty of them are free!

“No Opt Out”

Similarly to “Accountable Talk,” there is a “No Opt Out” strategy from LeMov that encourages students’ involvement in their own learning. It reaches those students whose first instinct is to simply say “I don’t know” or sit in silence until the teacher moves onto another student ready with an answer. 

Some phrases to be modeled and displayed on anchor charts for this technique are as follows:

“Can you repeat the question?”

“Can I call on a friend for help?”

“I’m guessing…”

“Can I have more think time?”

“I have a question about…”

Again, it is important to circle back to any friend that passes it on to someone else. Have them repeat what a classmate said in their own words, and let them know you will do this before having them pass the responsibility along. 

Turn and Talks

Allowing your students time to share their ideas with one another, before sharing with the whole class can be a real confidence builder. It also helps them to use all of the accountable talk we’ve talked about so far in a more intimate setting and take in the ideas of another classmate. 

Just like with everything so far, model what a turn and talk should look like specific to the question you are asking.

Be sure to give students a time frame for their turn and talk.

Circulate to keep students on task and provide feedback to a few students about their conversation. 

Drawing/Writing Before Sharing

One way to differentiate a turn and talk could be to draw or write your ideas/answers before sharing with the class. Provide your students with clip boards and scrap paper while doing a lesson! This could assist creative thinkers with getting their thoughts out effectively and could support them with explaining their answer to the class. 

Make it a Part of Your Routine

Last but not least…don’t give up! Stay consistent with your kiddos, and constantly question them and support them in ways that will result in accountable student talk. Be sure to always expect explanations from all of your students, and it will become a part of their everyday routine.

I wish you all luck in implementing this in your classroom, and thank you so much for reading my very first blog post! Please leave comments below to let me know how you plan on implementing this, what worked, what didn't, and any questions! Feel free to tag my on social media @MrsSmithenwithTeaching. I love to see how fellow teachers implement things into their classrooms!

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