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February 15. 2018

Opportunities to Foster Thoughtful Talk

Students’ talk reflects their thinking. When students talk about what they are reading, they reveal their understandings and perspectives; communicate and refine their ideas; make meaning from texts; and make connections to their own experiences. Thoughtful talk is a treasure trove of information that will help inform your teaching.

Students need robust opportunities for varied talk structures within many different instructional contexts. Here are some settings in which you can foster those opportunities!

Turn and Talk

Turn and talk is when students turn toward one or two other students to discuss a text or part of a text that they have just read or listened to. Turn and talk provides all students with the opportunity to share their thinking and to learn the thinking of others. This mini-discussion allows students to refine and sharpen their ideas, which in turn enriches whole-class discussion. 

Students can turn and talk during interactive read-aloud, reading minilessons, guided reading discussions, book clubs, shared reading, and during lessons in any of the disciplines. Start with partners and move on to groups of threes and fours. Teach them to start discussing right away, look at each other in the eyes, and listen attentively. Provide students with a prompt to focus their conversation and lead their thinking forward.


Conferences provide you with an opportunity to have genuine conversations with students about their work and identity as readers. Students’ talk during conferences reveals their understandings and thinking. Your role is to provide brief, customized support and responsive teaching that enables them to more efficiently and effectively process texts.

Conferences are conversational, with the reader doing at least as much or more talking than the teacher. Pull up a chair and sit next to the reader, or call the reader to sit with you at a table or desk tucked away from the rest of the classroom activity. The conference allows you to understand a reader’s processing of a text, but the goal is to ensure that they learn something they can apply to their reading in the future.

Book Clubs

Book clubs provide an authentic opportunity for students to apply many of the literacy behaviors and understandings that they have learned through other instructional contexts. As they bring together much of their learning in this one context, students find themselves in control. The experience of exchanging ideas with their peers and co-constructing richer, deeper understandings of texts is genuinely rewarding. 

A book club is an intensive instructional context, not simply an activity you assign. Eventually, students will be able to take the lead because of your teaching and support, but you may interject an occasional comment or question that extends students’ thinking in ways they can’t do for themselves. As you respond to students during a book club, you demonstrate that each student’s perspectives and ideas are valued.

Engaging in thoughtful talk means going beyond casual sharing to make strong and explicit links between students’ own experiences and understandings and the larger ideas in a text. When students talk seriously and in-depth about books, the benefits are enormous.

The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy™ Team 

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