Want Kids to Walk the Walk? Then Chart the Talk!

Today we are delighted to welcome guest blogger, Valerie Geschwind. Valerie is currently a teacher in the NYC public schools. Valerie creates magical things in her classroom, one of which is rich and inspired talk. In the post below, she shares some of her secrets to building great talk. You can follow Valerie on twitter at @valgeschwind and learn more at her blog, kiddrivenblog.wordpress.com


With the CCSS placing such a strong emphasis on speaking and listening, teachers have been asking an important question:  How can we support students in building academic talk and conversations?

Just like we support readers, writers, mathematicians, and scientists with charts and visuals, we can support our talkers with charts too!

Getting Started with Talk Behaviors

If your classroom is anything like mine, the fall months are spent with a lot of wiggly worms on the rug.  Before diving into building conversations, we spend time practicing the behaviors of talk.  During daily shares that happen within morning meeting, kids get to practice being respectful listeners and talkers.  These morning shares were not academically based, but instead were student chosen.  In order for students to hone in on the behaviors of talk, it is important for them to be free from worrying about new content.

To start, we brainstormed what it looks like to be listening.  I charted what my kids came up with in simple language, as it was fall of kindergarten.

photo 1

Before each share, we choose one behavior to practice as a class.  When students were finished sharing, we would reflect.  We would ask questions like:

  • How did it feel to (insert goal here)?
  • What was easy?
  • What felt hard?
  • How can we do an even better job tomorrow?

After we became expert listeners, we worked on becoming expert speakers!  In many ways, this is a lot more difficult for children.   They need to be able to come up with ideas and share them with all of their peers.  When we were practicing becoming expert speakers, we followed a similar procedure as when we became expert listeners.  We brainstormed what expert speakers sounded like and then practiced during shares.

photo 2

As the weeks went on and our class had practiced the  listening and speaking behaviors, kids began setting their own personal goals.  They would jot a behavior on an index card and bring it with them to the rug as a reminder.

Students holding their goal index cards during a share on the rug.

Students holding their goal index cards during a share on the rug.

Kids were in charge of this goal-setting. If they felt that they needed to work on the same goal over a few days, they would keep their index card. When they felt ready for a new goal, they made a new index card.  As kids made their goals, they took ownership of listening and speaking behaviors that would act as the base for future conversations.

Behaviors Help Build Conversations

Talk behaviors act as the foundation for conversations.  We started to practice using what we know about being a listener and speaker and combining these skills around debate topics as opposed to practicing these skills in isolation during a share where a few children speak, the rest listen, and there is not growth or development.  Again, to start, these were not academic talks, but debates around topics my kids were interested in.  For example, we debated which is more fun, indoor or outdoor recess?  We debated what flavor is better, vanilla or chocolate?

We began practicing these new conversational strategies to support deeper talk and conversation around one topic.

photo 3

This chart grew over a few weeks.  Strategies were added as they came up in our debate conversations and kids were ready to push their talk deeper.

Content Drives Conversation

I am a firm believer that content is what will ultimately drive conversation.  Kids (people of all ages) like to talk.  When kids are interested in a topic or a book, they will be eager and excited to talk about it.  When moving into academic talks and grand conversations, I keep this fact in mind, choosing topics and books that are meaty, interesting, and engaging.  In my personal experience, I have found that kids love to talk around non-fiction topics, so this is where I often begin when transitioning kids into academic talk.  To get kids talking, I chose some strategies that are also supportive when reading non-fiction and charted them.


We also remembered to take everything we learned previously about conversation behaviors and strategies and brought it to these new conversations.

During read-aloud, kids could write their ideas and then use these non-fiction strategies as a guide for talk.  Students would ask questions and many would respond with their theories.

photo 5

Having the chart as a visual supported the types of thinking and talking they could do around non-fiction topics.  It is also a supportive visual to have the book projected so that students can use it as evidence for their theories or to clarify each other’s thinking.

Similar content charts can be made for fiction.

photo 2

It is easy to get kids excited about talk.  Creating charts and visuals of talk behaviors, strategies, and interactions with content only further supports  their ability to build meaningful conversations.

What are some talk visuals you have created to support your talkers?

Happy Charting and Talking,

Valerie Geschwind



13 Comments on “Want Kids to Walk the Walk? Then Chart the Talk!”

  1. Rich Taibi says:

    Reblogged this on The Curriculum Corner.

  2. nell709 says:

    I love these ideas and the charts are so simple but to the point! Thanks for sharing these cool tips. My class is on a non fiction unit right now so this was perfect! 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on Mel the Literacy Coach and commented:
    Time to reveal a great blog all about charts on the classroom… or maybe I already did that. Check out this post from Chart Chums and see how charts can be used throughout the teaching and learning of new and complex skills.
    Kindergarteners who use the word clarify. That teacher has to be doing something right!!

  4. I love this – there is so much rich language being shared and practiced my head is spinning. Clarify! Written by a child! Wonderful. And the goal cards are fabulous.

    • Anna,

      I’m glad you liked it! My kids love learning new ‘fancy’ words. When we learn fancy words, we speak in British accents (mine is more of an Irish pirate) and flip our hair. Seems more playful that way. 🙂

  5. This is fantastic! I’m pinning this and will share it whenever I talk with teachers about enabling kids to have richer discussions. Thanks!

  6. […] Want Kids to Walk the Walk? Then Chart the Talk! […]

  7. […] is a great article about the importance of creating anchor charts and visuals which support positive student behaviors […]

  8. Loralee says:

    Thank you for sharing! So helpful!

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