Five Keys to Power Up Talk About Reading in Your Classroom

3.20.15 Irene Fountas Photoby Irene Fountas, Author and Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University

The amount of talk your students do each day in your classroom matters. Your students’ talk about reading reveals and expands their thinking. A set of learned behaviors and talk structures will provide rich opportunities for deep thinking and valuable learning about texts that will serve your students for a lifetime.

How many opportunities are there for meaningful talk about reading in your classroom? Of course I don’t mean just increasing the number of times or the amount of talk, but increasing opportunities for the kind of focused talk that promotes deeper understandings and new ways of thinking and conversing about texts.

Think about the following five ways that you can build a culture of thoughtful talk in your classroom.

1. Help your students understand that reading is thinking and that when they talk, they share their thinking and learn from the thinking of others.

When students are in a classroom environment that promotes reading as thinking, they learn to bring together their own thinking with the writer’s thinking and with the thinking of others. They take risks by sharing their voices and build a richer understanding of a text than any one reader can get for himself.

2. Teach your students to turn and talk effectively with each other.

Turn and talk is a structured opportunity for your students to share their thinking and learn from the thinking of their peers. When students turn and talk, every student gets the opportunity to talk.

Help your students learn how to turn and talk first with a partner and then in threes or fours in ways that are productive. Be sure to help them learn how to get started right away, to look each other in the eyes when talking and to listen attentively to the speaker. Model how to respond to and build on what the speaker said in a way that results in authentic dialogue that accomplishes richer thinking not just random talk.

Consider having your students turn and talk during interactive read aloud, reading minilessons, guided reading discussions, literature circles, whole group share as well as during lessons in any of the disciplines.

3. Give your students wait time and teach them to give each other wait time.

Wait time gives a person a little time to process. Help your students develop patience with a little wait time for their peers and be sure you model doing the same. Often a little wait time is followed by evidence of good thinking that is well articulated. Wait time is think time. Your students can develop the kind of sensitivity to each other that is supportive to each other’s learning.

4. Demonstrate through your talk the kind of language that fosters equal participation, respect for each other’s thinking, and promotes building on each other’s ideas.

Your language provides a model for the productive talk your students need to engage in with each other. Your tone of respect and patience and the careful modeling of language that promotes analysis becomes the language that your students will use with each other. It creates an expectation for the kind of talk about reading that is valued in their classroom.

Be sure to demonstrate and prompt your students to support their thinking with personal experience or evidence from the text. Invite a variety of perspectives and encourage your students to notice the writer’s decisions. Encourage inquiry through genuine curiosity about the content of the text and the craft of the writer. Use language or prompts such as:

  • What made you think that?
  • Is there another way of think about that?
  • What was the writer really trying to say?
  • I noticed the writer ……..
  • I didn’t think about that so now I am wondering…
  • Talk more about that.
  • I want to understand how….
  • What do you notice about the way the writer….?

5. Listen carefully to your students and set the norm with them that they listen attentively and respectfully to each other.

A good listener can understand the speaker better and respond better than one who is always thinking about what he wants to say next. Teach your students to listen actively to each other to honor each other’s thinking and respond in precise ways to one’s ideas. Encourage them to share their thinking generously and graciously with their peers and be sure to invite the thinking of each member of their group. To help the group develop their talk power, be sure to plan for them to evaluate the quality of the talk and their participation.

When you power up the talk about reading in your classroom, your students will take all their rich thinking to their writing about reading. They will develop essential tools for a lifetime of successful literacy.

If you’d like to learn more about how to support student comprehension through talk, we have sessions at the upcoming 2015 Literacy for All conference! You can also view the full brochure to see the entire conference schedule and workshop listings.

One thought on “Five Keys to Power Up Talk About Reading in Your Classroom

  1. This valuable article could be adapted for parents to talk with their child about the story they are reading. I am working with immigrant Hispanic families with no English. Our nonprofit, Literacy, Language & Cultural Centers (LiLaC), Inc. is working to provide home libraries of books and to support parents in reading and talking with their children. What resources do you have that we could use for our community-based program? Connie M. Montgomery, Ph.D. (OSU, 2009)

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