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Structured Partner Talk

Classrooms right across our continent are filled with sounds of children engaged in structured and thoughtful talk. Educators realize that talking not only helps to develop their students' literacy skills but it is also a critical part of learning in all subject areas. Various types of talk (structured partner talk, social conversation, drama or role playing, rehearsed presentations, choral readings, etc.) can be utilized in the classroom depending on the targeted goals, the content area, the activity, and the age and experience of the children.

Who? Structured partner talk is widely recognized as a powerful learning strategy for all students K-12 and beyond.

What? Structured partner talk is a learning strategy that should have specific goals, clear expectations and a defined time.

Where? Pair students together. Have them sit facing each other (toes facing toes, knees facing knees, shoulders facing shoulders). Students could be seated at their desks, around a table or on the floor.

When? This strategy can be used in any content area.

Why? Oral language is acknowledged to be an important part of the curriculum and accounts for a large percentage of the primary language arts programme.

How? Develop criteria for structured partner talk with the students. Set clear expectations. Model each step. Have the students practise each step until they can demonstrate the ability to work independently.

Step #1

  • The teacher sets a specific task (predicting the outcome of a science experiment, determining the main idea of a story, choosing a method for solving a problem, etc.).
  • Step #2

    • The students are given time to think about the task on their own.
    • Step #3

      • The students each turn to a predetermined talking partner and share their thoughts.
      • The teacher keeps the talking time short (1 of 2 minutes is enough at first).
      • Step #4

        • The students report out to the larger group.

        Step #5

        • The teacher encourages and thanks the speakers.
        • 1. Together the teacher and students develop criteria for what a good speaker and listener looks like (on the outside and the inside). For example:

          • On the outside a good listener looks at the speaker, sits still, acknowledges the speaker with a nod, does not interrupt, and asks questions only when it is appropriate.
          • On the inside a good listener stays focused, asks mental questions and tries to determine the main idea.
          • On the outside a good speaker waits until the listener is ready, sits or stands still, speaks clearly, speaks at an appropriate pace and stays on topic.
          • On the inside a good speaker is aware of the audience and stays focused.
          2. The teacher posts the criteria on chart paper.
          3. The teacher models the respectful behaviour.
          4. The teacher introduces the steps for structured talk slowly and give lots of time for the students to practise.

          • The teacher is consistent with the framework for structured talk and the expectations for student behaviour.

          Partners should be chosen prior to the lesson. Students should have the opportunity to talk to a variety of partners over the course of the year. Some ways to choose the partnerships are:

          • Arrange the students' desks in pairs. Have each student talk to their desk partner.
          • Randomly choose partners by pulling popsicle sticks or slips of paper with student names on, from a jar.
          • If the students are sitting together on the floor just ask them to turn and talk to someone sitting next to them.

          Brainstorm with the students and then chart a variety of ways that partners can decide on who talks first. Some common responses are:

          • Play rock paper scissors.
          • The tallest/shortest/oldest/youngest/longest hair/ etc.goes first.
          • Students say: "You go first today, I'll go first tomorrow."

          Start with topics for which the students have lots of prior knowledge. Create questions that are open enough to elicit a variety of responses.

          • Have the student use a prop that can be held in the hand like a microphone (a stick or a feather works well).
          • Have the student stand to report out.
          • Let the students know that they must all be prepared to report out. If anyone needs extra time have him/her go back to their partner for coaching. Be sure to return to them later for their response.
          • Have each student include their partner in the report out, if appropriate ("My partner ....... and I thought that.....").
          • Don't have everyone report out on the same day and vary your selection methods for choosing the students to report out: choose by pulling the popsicle sticks from the jar, select students wearing running shoes, students wearing something red, students with an even number of letters in their names, etc.
          • Shy students could report out with the support of their partner.
          • Provide sentence frames or prompts when first starting out.
          • Have the chart of criteria for good speaking and listening clearly visible and refer to it frequently.
          Step 1
          • Show your placticine insect model to the class.
          • Draw your own insect on the chalkboard. Label the insect with the most important information. Provide a caption underneath the drawing.
          • Distribute the students models and the drawing paper.
          • Have the students draw and label their insects. Have them provide a caption underneath the picture. Have them colour the drawing.

          Step 2

          • When the drawings are finished invite a student volunteer to join you at the front of the classroom to help you model structured partner talk to the rest of the class.
          • Follow the same procedure as in Lesson #2.

          Step 3

          • Have the class practise their listening and speaking skills with a partner following the same procedure as in Lesson #2 using their drawings as the basis of their conversation.

          • Ask the students to reflect on their listening and speaking roles.
          • Have some students share with the larger group something that their partner had done really well during the practise.