Turning Around a Turn and Talk

A turn-and-talk is a structure to get students talking to a partner for a few moments. I use turn-and-talks a lot during whole group instruction, especially reading, because it allows for more communicating than me just calling on particular students.

Often though, I feel like my students' turn-and- talks are more like: turn-and-make-noise. Even though students are paired with a partner, it seems like each person is only wrapped up in his/her own thinking and ideas. 

And it all just comes spewing out at the same time.

Is this what I was looking for? Is there any real communication going on? Are students understanding what their partners are saying? Do they even care?

This year I decided to take a different approach to a turn-and-talk. I still loved its simple format, but I wanted a more authentic conversation to happen between students, so I'm trying to "turn around" a turn-and-talk so the focus is not on the talking, but on the understanding.

The chart above is what I built with students to try to switch our priority to caring about understanding our partner, rather than simply sharing our own thoughts. And wouldn't you know it, a byproduct of this new mindset is that students still get to speak their own thoughts, because their partners care about understanding them

Currently, I'm layering in a few key strategies to continue to transform our turn-and-talks, like:
  • FACE: Look your partner in the eyes. Lean in. Smile.
  • FEEDBACK: Nod your head. Give caring-cues like, "Mmm-hmm," or, "Really?"
  • FOLLOW-UP: Ask a question to find out more and make things clearer.
  • REPHRASE: Try saying back your partner's thinking: "So I think what you're saying is..."
As  a parallel side note, we are also introducing the 7 Habits of Happy Kids, and Habit #5 is just a perfect fit with what we've been talking about.

I made the poster below to display to help my kids focus on what's really important when we do our turn-and-talks. Click on the picture to grab it for FREE!


Though it takes a little time to model and teach, turning around the turn-and-talk has made a big difference!


  1. I love this! I use turn and talk with my kiddos a lot, but this gives them a little more direction! Of course, practice makes better! Thanks so much for sharing!
    Second Grade is Out of This World!

  2. Love this! I teach math all day and love using turn and talk. Like you, I found there was more talking going on than listening. I now spend more time modeling turn and talk and hold kids accountable for listening and understanding their partner. In math, we talk a lot about strategies for solving problems. After a turn and talk, I often ask a kid to explain their partner's strategy. The first time I did this, no one could tell me about their partner's strategy. Now they know I might be asking this and do a much better job listening to their partner, asking clarifying questions and following up if they don't understand.

    The Math Maniac

    1. I too ask children to share their partner's responses...this helps to be sure that they are both listening to each other!

  3. This is great. In our grades-obsessed culture, it's no wonder our students only know to spew out what they understand (or check out and talk about what they watched on TV the night before!) We can't assume our kids know how to have an academic, two-way discussion with another student. Many students would benefit immensely from being taught the strategies discussed here. Thanks for sharing this!
    Out of the Mill


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