I agree with Sangeeta, there is nothing like a room buzzing with students…talking!!! I don’t think that you can have a collaborative engaging learning environment without a little noise.
Frank Serafini has written a number of books about developing engaging reading programs (e.g., The Reading Workshop, Lessons In Comprehension) and he is often invited to speak at large literacy conferences. In one of his sessions he said, half in jest, that when we read a great book, we don’t get excited and rush to make a diorama. Rather, we want to talk about the book! We must allow and plan for productive accountable talk in our classrooms.
One strategy that is popular in my class is called, Paired Verbal Fluency. I picked up this strategy years ago when I attended a Bruce Wellman workshop series. He also includes this strategy in his book with Laura Lipton, Pathways to Understanding: Patterns and Practices in the Learning Focused Classroom (ISBN 0-9665022-0-5). This strategy is great for getting students verbally active before, during and after learning. I often use it to activate prior knowledge, to review concepts already learned, before the learning continues. It is also a great strategy for consolidation. For example, the other day I used it to review what students learned from our study of the Underground Railroad.
The directions are rather simple.
- Students work in partners. Partners decide who will be person A and which partner will be person B.
- I present the topic that is going to be discussed. For example, “What is the Underground Railroad and why is it an important part of our history?”
- When I say, “Go,” person A speaks. Person A begins to answer the question. Person B listens carefully, but does not add to the discussion. Person A speaks for 60 seconds.
- When I say, “Switch,” it is person B’s turn to speak. Person B should not repeat anything that person A shared. Person B is simply building on A’s answer. Person B speaks for 60 seconds.
- The process continues for another round or two, but for each round, the time is decreased by 20 seconds. For example, person A will now continue to build on to person B’s response, being careful not to repeat anything B said, but this time, A will only speak for 40 seconds.
Students enjoy this strategy. It teaches them to listen to each other. Other effective strategies for fostering accountable-talk include the Give-One, Get One strategy and the Walk Around Survey. These strategies also have the added benefit of getting the students moving around the room as well as talking. Other strategies can be found in the Ministry of Education’s A Guide to Effective Literacy Instruction Grades 4-6 – Volume One, 2006. You can find this document at eworkshop.on.ca.