Use Talk Tools in Your Classroom

Did you know that talking it out enhances problem-solving, learning, and our ability to transfer learning from one task to another? Think about your classroom for a moment and ask yourself who does most of the talking? If it is you, this post will help and if it is students, this post will help. We all want to improve classroom conversations so that students improve their thinking, reasoning and problem-solving skills. There is another benefit to conversations. Students will improve their listening skills, they will learn and retain information better because they will have to think about what is being said and can come up with agreements or disagreements. Talk tools really come in handy to teach effective conversation skills.

Students need effective practice and time to develop conversation skills. When we solve problems and reason topics, we do most of our thinking and talking in our heads. Students need to learn to do this, so we teach them to do it outside of themselves first. Through whole or small group students will have a chance to be engaged in reasoning. We will facilitate and guide but not focus on providing answers directly. Instead, we will work on guiding them and leading them through discovery and exploration of concepts that will help them to better understand and remember.

When we teach a concept, we always teach vocabulary and meaning but are we allowing students to use it in conversation? Conversations are so important. Students will use vocabulary, concepts, reasoning, opinions and critical thinking to explain and reason behind their thinking. They will learn to agree and disagree and most importantly change their minds when provided with new information.

Conversations can also reveal understanding and misunderstanding for the purpose of informal and self-assessment. It can support language development and help support social skills.

Only if we give students a chance to talk about their thinking will they learn to voice their opinions. I hope I have sold you on the idea of having more conversations in class. We need to explicitly teach students the ground rules of discussions. Talk tools are a great way to introduce the norms of effective conversation. We can do this first by explaining that we will be working better to talk together and share ideas, so to do this properly:

Talk Tools

Conversation Rules / Talk Tools

  • We look at the speaker.
  • We listen carefully and try our best to understand.
  • We explain our thinking with reasons.
  • We can ask people to repeat what they said and ask for clarification.
  • When we disagree, we disagree with an idea not the person.
  • We will listen and decide if we should change our mind about what we think. There are tools that can help us to better facilitate discussions, they are called Talk Tools (Chapin).


Revoicing is an excellent tool to help someone clarify and share their own thinking. Revoicing provides thinking space and allows them to hear it again. We repeat what the person has said and allow them to explain it further if we misunderstood. The sentence frame for this is: “So you’re saying_______.”


Repeating is when someone repeats or paraphrases what another student says. This helps students orient to the thinking of others and can help tremendously with seeing things from a different perspective. To do this, we ask a student to restate someone else’s reasoning. The sentence from for this is “Can you repeat what he just said in your own words?”


I love this talk tool the most because it really gets you thinking and pushes for deeper understanding. The sentence frame for this is “Do you agree or disagree and why?”

Adding on

This tool prompts students for further participation and helps them engage with the reasoning of others. The sentence frame for this is “Would someone like to add something more to this?”


Wait time is one of the most under estimated tools. Wait all the time. Keep quiet and watch the learning happen. The sentence frame is “Take your time…we’ll wait…”

Some of the best schools around the world use “roundtables” as an integral part of their curriculum. It maybe difficult to get your students to the point of where they are comfortable sharing and asking questions, but it is well worth the effort. Some problems you might come across are:

Students won’t talk, will not contribute
So have them turn and partner talk.

The same students do all the talking
This is where wait time will be your best friend, don’t let any student off the hook.

Students won’t listen to others
Use Repeat, Adding on, and reasoning for agree or disagree responses.

Final tip, Incorporate Silent Signals
Nonverbal signals allow for all students to engage without the class getting out of hand. Edutopia has a great poster and wonderful article explaining the importance of hand signals.

When incorporating talk into the curriculum more intentionally you will have students listening to their peers and engaged! Active listening will clearly happen when students are encouraged to add on or repeat their peer’s words. It is an excellent way to check in and do a quick assessment. The students will show support and encourage each other. They will be more comfortable to speak and share their ideas. Talk tools will help their confidence grow. If you need more help in implementing talk tools, please take a look at this great paper – it is about implementing talk tools in math but I find that it is useful for any subject and topic.


Classroom Discussions: Using Math Talk to Help Students Learn (9781935099017) Suzanne H. Chapin, Catherine O’Connor, Nancy Canavan Anderson: Books

Talk Tools

I LOVED this. I put it up in my room and referred to it all year long.

D'Lynn S., Teacher

This will be great for helping to teach my students on the autism spectrum examples of how to participate in class discussions. Thanks!

Christina C., Teacher

Great prompts to help students with wording during discussion.

Mary Strange, Teacher

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