Thursday’s Tip: Let Them Talk

Students talking
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I’ve spent a lot of time in seventh and eighth grade classrooms lately. One characteristic that I’ve noticed to prevalent in these students is that they like to talk. They comment on everything and are constantly turning to their peers to gossip or just fill that silence with their voices.

Teachers handle this in various ways. Some teachers challenge their students with a high level of rigor, allowing for no time to talk. Other teachers play along and engage these conversations, no matter the topic. Then, there are those who just keep trudging along, ignoring the talking so that they can concentrate on delivering content. Of course, there are various combinations of all three in most classrooms.

In all these instances, the students’ need to talk and be social is either ignored or left underdeveloped. What these teachers could do is take advantage of middle school students’ ability and willingness to talk and be social in order to develop the level of discourse in the classroom. These students learn through social means no matter how much we fight it. Why not use what they do best?

Here are a few ways to get your students talking in ways that are productive and that recognize their need to be social:

  • “Think-Pair-Share” is an excellent cooperative learning strategy that gets students to organize and focus their thoughts, allows them to talk to a partner, and requires them to share with the whole class.
  • “Wagon Wheel” is a community-building activity that gets students to get up and talk to their peers. An inner-circle faces out toward an inward-facing circle. The teacher or facilitator opens up discussion by asking a fun question like “What are your plans for the weekend?” or “What did you do this summer?” After turns are taken to talk, students rotate to new discussion partners. With each following question, the topics move closer and closer to the day’s topic.
  • Have students do the teaching. Either through using the Jigsaw cooperative learning strategy or other cooperative groupings, teachers can have their students present content to their peers. Small group or whole group discussions can create opportunities for students to speak.
  • Sentence and/or question stems can help students focus their discussion and force them to use language that is appropriate and effective in a discussion.
  • A technological alternative might be to allow certain forms of chatting during class. Of course, one would want to utilize a controlled environment so that discussions are kept on topic for the most part. A possibility might be to use Twitter with a specific hashtag or the chat feature in Google Presentation.
  • Create a Facebook group for your class (13 years and older). Pose questions relating to what was discussed in class. Post due dates in the form of events. Post resources that relate classroom topics and real world events. Students love their social networks. Why can’t they be educational as well as social?

Of course, there are endless cooperative learning,¬†community-building possibilities, and¬†technological¬† to build on students’ social natures. These are just a few ways we can harness that energy for the purposes of advancing student thought and discourse.

How do you encourage students to speak in your classroom? What are the benefits of having students talk in class? What are the best technological tools to take advantage of a student’s social focus?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.