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  • Language is a child’s most powerful learning tool.

    Language is a child’s most powerful learning tool. Within all of the instructional contexts that are part of a comprehensive language and literacy curriculum, learning is mediated by oral language”.
    Fountas & Pinnell (2011)

    Soliciting responses to teacher questions often limits discussion. Students either choose not to respond or the same students respond and teachers call on those students to move the discussion along and get the “right” answer. When classroom participation structures are used they foster oral language development with peer talk and interaction being key.

    Turn and Talk is an oral language support strategy that provides students scaffolded interactions to formulate ideas and share their thinking with another student.
    When Turn and Talk is used, all students have a chance to share their thinking in a low-risk setting. Verbalizing their thinking scaffolds students understanding and provides talk at a peer level, a model close to the language the student controls.  
    This is an easy participation structure to establish and use in the full range of settings in classroom instruction in all content areas. Turn and Talk provides the language we speak to become part of the regular classroom procedures.


  • As with anything in the classroom, routines are very important

    in implementing participation structures.

    1. Determine strategic partners

    2. Create and environment that provides partners close proximity for talk to occur

    3. Set academic expectations

    4. Determine a signal to come to whole group

    5. Teach flexibility and problem solving

  • Students can be partnered in many ways

    but the partnering should be strategic and not random. It is important to pair students strategically so that both have an opportunity to share during a turn-and-talk. In general we suggest pairing less proficient speakers with students who have a little more language, but not with the most proficient speakers.

  • Create an area in your classroom

    where students can sit on the floor in assigned seats next to their partner. Make sure you can access students to observe and hear conversations. Across the grade levels, close proximity may not always be on the floor. Teachers may want students to be able to do this at their desks as well as at the carpet.

  • In order for students to engage in conversation

    we need to help them learn how to be effective listeners and speakers.

    Students should know who their partner is, where to sit, and how to do a Turn and Talk based on the teacher's expectations.

    It is important for students to understand how to take turns and have equal talking time.  They need to lean forward, look each other in the eye and speak clearly. You will need to teach them how to be active listeners, prompt their partner to share ideas and ask clarifying questions.

    Anchor charts contain key elements of what is being taught, and should be hung up in the classroom for students to refer to. The list of indicators on the anchor chart should be reflective of the skills of the students in your classroom and reflect what you have modeled for students.  This list may grow over time as you add new skills.  For example: after we have taught students to prompt their partner to say more we could then add that to the anchor chart.

  • Whatever signal you use, ensure that students know what to do

    when they hear or see it. What are your expectations for finishing a Turn and Talk? Consider whether you want a quiet signal or one that requires students to respond verbally.

    How should students respond when they hear the signal? Do they stop speaking immediately? Do they have sufficient time (10 seconds) to finish their sentence? Is there a preliminary signal and then a final signal a few second later to allow students time to finish their thought?

    Consider whatever signal you already use in your classroom, or add a new one.


  • After students master procedures and are able to problem solve

    around missing partners, you can allow for more flexibility in partnering.  Providing students with some opportunities to choose their own partners, or for you to assign different partners will help them to become more flexible.  It also allows you options to pair students in a way that will help you to differentiate based on the content and language objective you are trying to achieve.

  • It is important to strategically plan Turn and Talks

    to allow students a chance to talk about the content and to ensure the questions are open-ended and require students to provide thoughtful answers. Turn and talk can be woven into every content and throughout the day.

  • Open-ended questions allow students to think critically

    and support their ability to articulate their understanding of the teaching point. The teachers should consider the language demands of the content and their question, and may choose to provide sentence stems to help the students to answer the question.

    Open-ended questions require more than a few words to answer. It's important to use open-ended questions because they allow for more student talk and support critical thinking and argumentation skills, as required by the new Common Core State Standards.