Wait, you want your students talking in your classroom? Isn’t it a struggle enough to get that overly talkative kid to STOP talking? Let’s be honest, that kid that won’t stop talking is never going to completely stop talking, and you shouldn’t want them to. Student talk in the classroom is incredibly important for vocabulary development, building classroom community, writing, reading comprehension. In other words…. LEARNING! So if student talk is so important to learning, what about your quiet students? What are some ways to get your quiet students talking?
#1 We ALL Talk
If it is a student’s turn to talk and they clam up and you let them not talk, you just told them 2 things:
A) They can get out of participating in class
B) What they have to say isn’t important.
Set the expectation that everyone talks in the classroom. I introduce this to students by saying that we are ALLs. That is, we are Academic Language Learners. The reason we talk in class is to develop our academic language, and it is our job in class to make sure that everyone talks. It doesn’t matter at what time of year you talk to your students about this. If you take the time to show your students that hearing them talk is important, they will all talk.
Some of my other ideas may work, but setting this expectation and following through with it is key. This means that if you set an expectation that someone talks if XYZ then you need to make sure they talk when XYZ happens.
#2 Provide Opportunities For Rehearsal
Rehearsal? What? We’re talking about music now? No, I mean opportunities for oral rehearsal, practicing what it is that they are going to say. One reason that students do not want to participate in a classroom discussion is that they don’t know what to say. Before you ask students to share something with the class, give them an opportunity to think about and practice what they are going to say with a partner or multiple partners.
Encourage your students to borrow ideas and words from the partners that they talk to. This accomplishes a few things: encourages students to use more precise language by using words from partners and lets students know that they aren’t “copying” if they share an idea from a partner.
#3 Share A Partner’s Idea
One reason that students don’t like sharing in class is that they think that their ideas are not valid or they literally just might not have an idea to share. You might just have posed a really tough question (good for you!) and they just may not have an idea.
Solution: Every time students share, I say “What were you and your partner saying?” and I encourage them to respond with “We were saying….” It takes the pressure off of them because it becomes a collective idea that they are sharing. If other students disagree with what they share, it is not directly with them that they are disagreeing.
I had an ELL at the beginning of the year who was TERRIFIED to share in her second language. She didn’t think that she had good ideas and didn’t know how to express them in English. This strategy has her VERY much willing to share because she could hear her partner’s idea and borrow language from that partner as she shares.
#4: No More Hand Raising
We’re in the 21st century people. Hand raising encourages the heavy participators to participate more and intimidates the timid sharers. If you already were unsure about an idea that you had and you had someone sitting next to you waving at the teacher because they KNOW the answer, you wouldn’t want to share your idea either.
Solution: Choose students at random. This can be done a variety of ways. You can label popsicle sticks with student names or class numbers and choose by popsicle sticks. Another option is to use an app like ClassDojo (FREE!) or Stick Pick (paid) that have a random button to allow you to randomly select students. A final option that I just recently discovered was using an Amazon Echo. My classroom has an Echo Dot, and I can just ask Alexa to pick a random number for me.
#5: Tell the Student In Advance
This one sort of goes along with #4 of no more hand raising. Regardless of how you pick students to participate in class, while your students are practicing their response with a partner or partners, I select my student who will participate. If I see that it’s one of my more timid students, I prep them and tell them that I am going to call on them to share.
Yes, this puts pressure on them, but it also gives them time to prepare their response with their partner and it’s far better than finding out and being unprepared.
#6: Provide a Sentence Starter or Frame
Sometimes students don’t want to talk because they don’t know how to start. This is especially true for second language learners like ELLs. Restating the question isn’t an innate ability and if we want students using academic language when responding to a question, give them a sentence starter or a frame to work with.
Question: What was the author’s purpose for writing this story: to inform, entertain or teach? Explain.
Sentence Frame: The author’s purpose was to inform/entertain/teach because____. For example, in the story_____ Therefore_____
You could have gotten something simple like “She wrote it to teach because I learned ____” By simply providing a sentence stem you got students using literary vocabulary and you also gave them ways to provide an extended response.
Do students NEED to use the sentence stem? Not necessarily, but it gives everyone something to start with if they’re unsure how to begin their response and they see the level that you expect them to respond with.
#7: When All Else Fails – “I’m Coming Back To You”
Sometimes all of the above ideas fail. What do you do? You’ve prepped the kid, they’ve practiced, they know you’re going to call on them, and then you call on them and…crickets. You’re a professional, though, and you give wait time to the point that it starts to get painful, and still nothing. That’s when you say, “I’m coming back to you.” You tell the student that you’re going to call on X number of students more and then you’re going to come back to them. During that time you have the student whisper with their partner to prep them again.
Most importantly, YOU GO BACK TO THAT STUDENT. Remember, if you call on a student and they don’t participate, you are telling them that they can get away with not participating and that their ideas don’t matter. Students are keen observers of your behavior and if you let one student get away with not participating, they all see that they can get away with it.
Bottom Line: Get ALL of your students talking
Gen. ed, ELLs, over-sharers, under-sharers, and please please please SAY IT WITH ME: Special Education students. Get them ALL talking. Those who do the talking are the ones who do the learning. If you show your students that there are some students who are expected to participate in discussions and it’s okay for others not to, you are showing them that it’s important for only SOME students to learn. If you want to impact ALL of your students, get them ALL talking, especially your quiet students.
Do you have any other sure fire ways to get those quiet students talking? Let me know in the comments!