Talk Moves in the Classroom

What Productive Talk Looks Like in the Elementary Grades

I used to believe that the ideal classroom was one in which the pupils sat in rows, folded their hands, and focused all of their attention on the teacher. In point of fact, “all eyes on me” was my favourite sentence from any of my teachers. One of the things that made teaching enjoyable for me was having a class full of engaged students.

Fast-forward My pupils would either be seated at tables or knee-to-knee in small groups while I was in my final year of teaching before making the move to becoming an instructional coach. This goes back 35 years. They weren’t being silent at all, and they were helping to direct their own education. The conversation was lively, and the flow of ideas was consistent. How did we get there? Talk moves are sentence stems and key words that assist kids in speaking, actively listening, and building on the ideas of their peers. I taught these to the children in the fifth grade.


Over the course of four days, I delivered the talk’s moving parts. Following the presentation of each speaking move, I led a classroom practise session in which we acted out how it might sound. For instance, when students sought to stimulate the thought processes of their classmates, they might say something along the lines of “What do you mean by that?” alternatively, “Can you provide an example?”

After the students had learned the conversation moves over the course of the first three days, a group of four students mimicked them on the fourth day. After observing, the remaining students provided the group with feedback by naming the speak moves they had seen their classmates perform during the activity.

The conversation moves up was posted on a bulletin board that I kept up in the classroom throughout the entire school year. My pupils were equipped with crucial phrases to engage their speaking, thinking, and listening, such as “I respectfully disagree because .” It takes effort to build the routines, but in the long run, it saves time by engaging pupils and making the period much more productive than it would have been otherwise. As the academic year went, there were times when we needed to review the talk moves to think about how the talk seemed (students seated facing each other, in a circle, or knee-to-knee) and how it sounded (students kneeling next to one another) when it was functioning effectively. The bulletin board served as a reference guide for the majority of the time that we spent each day.


Time for reflection: When I first brought this to the attention of the students, we spent some time talking about the significance of giving one another time to think and how doing so facilitates better expression on the part of the pupils. In order for my students to practise this talk move, I gave them time to jot down a few ideas before they started talking, and then I encouraged them to remark, “I need time to think,” whenever they found themselves in a conversation with another person. When students subsequently work in small groups or with a partner, it will be easier for them to have think time if you make it a habit of allowing for quiet times and thought to become habitual. When I employed this strategy with my students as a teacher, I also brought it to their attention. I’d say something like, “Take note, I just utilised some think time.”

Explain further: People have a habit of talking without listening to others. Because they are required to ask their classmates for clarification, kids are forced to listen to what is being said. Encourage student inquiry by asking them things such, “Can you elaborate on that?” Asking “What do you mean by that?” or “Can you give an example?” are both good follow-up questions. promotes attentive listening as well as conversation between the students in a back and forth format.

So, are you saying ? Students can examine their level of comprehension and confirm with the presenters that they have communicated what they wanted to through the use of summarising. The following are some useful sentence starters: “Let me see if I comprehend what you are saying: ___,” and “Are you saying ?”

Who here is able to restate or paraphrase that? If students are going to paraphrase what someone else has said, they need to listen very closely to what is being stated. Encourage student interaction by having them question one another, “How can we say that differently?” or “Can you explain that in your own words?” is another question that helps increase knowledge of the material.

What are the reasons or evidence that support your claim? When students break down their reasoning for their classmates, they not only improve their own understanding but also that of their peers. Students ought to be making assertions across the curriculum and supporting those assertions with evidence. They can interrogate one another with queries such as “What proof do you have?” “What leads you to believe that?” “Does the passage contain anything that lends credence to your hypothesis?” as well as “What is the source of the information?”

Students’ thinking is pushed further and their understanding is deepened when they are given a contradicting example to consider. This is known as a challenge or a counterexample. They can do this by asking questions to each other like “Does it always work that way?” or “Is there another way it could be done?” “How does that idea translate when applied to a different scenario?” …and “What if it had instead been ?”

Conflict isn’t always easy, but it’s important for students to learn how to respectfully express their opinions and know that it’s OK to change their mind when they are introduced to new information. It’s also important for students to learn that it’s OK to change their mind when they are presented with new information. The following sentence starters might assist foster discussion that is both courteous and productive: “I respectfully disagree because ___,” “I agree with ___,” and “Are you saying the same thing as ?”

Add on: Sentence starters such as “I would want to add on to that,” “Adding on to what [another student] said, ___,” and “Can I push that notion a bit further?” are examples of add-on sentence starters. assists students in working together to expand upon the knowledge they have already acquired.

Clarify what you think another person means by saying: Having students rephrase the responses of their classmates into their own words not only helps you to check for comprehension but also provides more students a sense of ownership over the solution, exposes them to new ways of thinking about the answer, and broadens their perspective. The question “Why do you believe he said that?” is a good way to start this conversation off on the right foot. Students are encouraged to start the conversation by stating something along the lines of “I can explain what __ means by that” or “I can put it into my own words.”

The most significant adjustment I’ve made to my teaching strategy over the course of my career is to emphasise encouraging students to engage in fruitful conversation in the classroom. The students and I have engaged in conversation moves across the entirety of the curriculum. My experience as an instructional coach has shown me that the use of speaking moves in professional development is beneficial to instructors as well. In order for any of us to actually learn, we have to communicate to one another, process information, and share it.