Organizing Student Talk in Collaborative Literacy Work

By on May 26, 2015

College and Career Readiness standard one for Speaking and Listening reads: “Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades X-Y topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. Sounds good. How do we do it?

LiteracyTA’s coaches have spoken to this standard on a number of occasions, most recently Jonathan LeMaster’s post on April 27 of this year. If we infuse student collaborative talk about literacy into our daily lessons, we will consistently be meeting this standard.

Recently I was faced with a challenge common to our practice of executing collaborative groups successfully: How do I keep students on-task to talk about my text-dependent questions and not lapse into “social talk” of their own making? I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s a problem.

Even the best kids are experts at doing this at the drop of a hat--one moment on-task and the next--very, very off-task.

Instead of the potentially more chaotic “Talk about this in your groups,” I created a procedure that helps. (No silver bullets in the world of teaching! Only improvements.)

I named it “Everyone Speaks!” and it is illustrated in the visual below. It’s pretty simple: I give a number to each student in a four-person group, but the procedure is flexible and can be used with groups of all sizes.

  1. Student #1 responds to the prompt I have given out to the class in the form of a text-dependent question.

  2. When Student #1 is finished, Student #2 gives his/her own response or analysis of the text. If Student #2 is unsure of an answer, then he/she repeats what Student #1 said (“Say it your way,” I tell them), but tries to add something.

  3. Then it is Student #3’s turn with the same criteria: Speak your own unique answer, or repeat and add to what you have already heard.

  4. Student #4 does the same.

As the illustration shows, Student #2 begins the next round, which over the course of time puts all students on the “hot seat” to begin a round with the first answer. My Honors students respond to the challenge of coming up with their own answers--a little competitive edge that they enjoy--while my regular students often repeat and attempt an addition.

Either way, they are practicing something important: Creating higher-level thinking and / or articulating an idea out loud which fosters the development of academic language and lowers the threshold of fear that can inhibit our students about talking about academic subjects.

Over time, everyone gets used to collaborative work where “Everyone Speaks!”  

Visit our Teacher Guides on Collaborative Work to learn more excellent ideas for teaching group work.

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