As teachers, we know how important it is to get students talking about their ideas. Students deepen their understanding of new content as they work to put their ideas into words. Students also build crucial communication and social skills as they learn to recognize, identify with, and respectfully critique the thoughts of others through classroom conversations.
While there are many ways to get students talking in class, the Turn and Talk protocol is a particularly reliable, efficient way to ensure every student has a chance to speak during class. To get the most out of this discussion protocol, and ensure students don’t get bored, we have 4 twists you can use that focus on writing, listening, and revising skills in addition to speaking.
The Classic Turn and Talk
The classic Turn and Talk has a few basic guidelines:
1. Assign each student a person to speak to
2. Give students a question or topic to discuss
3. Give students time to talk
While that might sound incredibly simple, there are a few things to consider that can make your Turn and Talks run as smoothly as possible.
First, when assigning partners, make sure students know who they are supposed to be speaking to, the appropriate volume to be speaking at so that students will be able to hear their partners speaking, and any additional discussion expectations. In my own 6th grade classroom, I would remind students that they were speaking to their assigned partner, and only their assigned partner for the entire time. I reminded them that they weren’t supposed to ask me any questions during this time as it was just for them to process their thoughts. In younger classrooms, and realistically some older ones too, you will want to remind students of the voice level that is appropriate for a partner talk.
Once students know with whom, and how, they are speaking, you can present the question. To ensure all students are able to meaningfully engage in a discussion, it can be helpful to present the question in multiple forms. For example, rather than just saying the question out loud, you can ask it out loud, write it on the board, and have the question printed on student handouts. This ensures that all students will have a jumping off point for their discussion and supports those that may struggle with auditory processing.
Another critical consideration when asking your question, is that this question is truly worthy of discussion. If you give students a yes or no question, they are going to spend maybe ten seconds saying yes or no and then either sit or silence or start talking about something totally unrelated. At Fishtank, we are always thinking about the types of questions that will really get students thinking critically and talking about concepts in a meaningful way to ensure every Turn and Talk is a true learning experience. While intellectually preparing your lessons, you can identify these higher-order thinking questions for discussion.
The last thing to consider for your Turn and Talk, is how you will let students know it is over. If you’ve never looked at your classroom and watched the discussions completely devolve into off-topic talking, you’re lucky. In my early teaching days, I really struggled to get students back on track after a Turn and Talk and was discouraged from using them. Finally, I got some advice on addressing this; let students know how you will be signaling the end of the conversations before they start talking. By letting students know ahead of time to be listening for whatever count down or call back I planned to use, they were far more successful in cutting off conversations when the time came and returning their attention to the next task.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, we can start to get creative with our Turn and Talks to make them even more impactful for student understanding.
Think-pair-share is a simple twist on the Turn and Talk that emphasizes students’ development of ideas independently before sharing. In this version, rather than asking a question and having students immediately begin discussing, you ask a question and provide time for students to think first.
By allowing this independent think time, you ensure all students will have something to say about the question when they do begin their discussions. For some students, this think time makes a huge impact as it takes the pressure off of them to have an immediate answer.
One way you can elevate this type of Turn and Talk, is by asking students to share what their partner said as opposed to sharing their own ideas when you review with the whole group. This requires students to focus on listening to what their partner is saying rather than just waiting to share their own ideas. Allowing the initial think time up front helps students develop their ideas more fully before sharing so that they can shift their attention to their partner.
Write-pair-share is another version of the Turn and Talk that allows students to develop their thoughts independently before sharing. However, rather than just offering additional think time, in this Turn and Talk, students are actually writing down their thoughts before speaking. Once you ask your question, you provide a set amount of time for students to independently write before beginning their discussion.
Like the think-pair-share, this version allows students to more fully and intentionally develop their thoughts before speaking. However, this version allows for deeper thinking as students are actually putting their thoughts on paper. Students can be identifying evidence from a text or showing their work to solve a math problem and therefore have something concrete to reference in their discussion.
This version can be particularly beneficial for students who struggle with oral processing as they have an opportunity to put their thoughts together coherently on paper before saying them out loud. Further, you can offer students additional scaffolds in this version to support multilingual learners or other special populations by providing sentence stems or a word bank on their handout.
Time-pair-share builds upon either think or write-pair share and emphasizes equality of voice in your Turn and Talk. In this version, students have a set amount of time to develop their own ideas, either thinking or writing, and then each partner has a set amount of time during which to speak. Before asking your question, you can assign each partner as either partner A or partner B so students know which partner should be speaking first. After the set amount of thinking or writing time, the first partner speaks until you announce that it is time to switch.
This version ensures that every student is actually speaking during the Turn and Talk. You have probably seen partner discussions that are dominated by one partner, leaving the other student to just listen. While listening has many benefits, we want every student to have the opportunity to share their thoughts. When you as the teacher are responsible for shifting the speaking roles, students that may feel shy speaking up or struggle to jump into a conversation are more easily able to engage.
Additionally, this version can also help students focus their attention more fully during the discussion. Because each student knows that they will have an opportunity to speak, they can more readily focus on what their partner is saying instead of worrying about finding time to get their own ideas out.
While this version is called think-pair-share-revise, it can easily be adapted as write- or time-pair-share-revise. The focus of this twist on the Turn and Talk is for students to not only share ideas, but revise them based on what they hear their partner say. For this version, once students are done discussing, they have time to revise their original thoughts independently before returning their attention to the whole group.
By allowing students an opportunity to independently revise their thinking or their written responses, you emphasize for students the value of the discussion and the importance of truly listening to their partner. Even if students aren’t changing their original answer completely, they can add new details or evidence from their partner.
Regardless of which twist on the classic Turn and Talk you try, your students will develop their ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and deepen their understanding of new content. Want even more ideas for elevating student voice in your classroom? Access our Academic Discourse Teacher Tools today for more on Preparing for Academic Discourse, Tiers of Academic Discourse, and Strategies to Support Academic Discourse. You can also find tips and tricks for engaging all learners in our Supporting English Language Learners and Special Populations Teacher Tools.
Rachel Fuhrman is the Curriculum Marketing Manager at Fishtank Learning. Before joining Fishtank Learning, Rachel spent 5 years as a Middle School Special Education Teacher in New Orleans, LA and Harlem, NY. Outside of the classroom, she has been a frequent contributor to multiple education blogs and focuses primarily on student engagement and instructional practice topics. Rachel earned both her Bachelor of Arts in Economics and her Master of Science in Educational Studies from The Johns Hopkins University.