Strengthening student conversations by strategically developing their speaking and listening skills.

by Courtney Fox

Grades K-2, Grades 3-5


Strong conversation skills are critical to developing deeper thinking and learning in students. A few years ago in my classroom I started to really engage kids in having constructive conversations. I noticed however, that the results were uneven at best. I wondered how I could teach kids to develop better conversation skills so that when I asked them to “turn and talk” a wonderful flow of conversation would result.

In order to have those meaningful conversations, there are many aspects to consider for both the student and the teacher. They include:

-The logistical skills that they have to acquire such as how to look at someone when you talk, body language, tone and volume;

-Creating safe spaces where kids are at ease having conversations;

-Reading the personality dynamics of the kids in the class;

-The topics you choose for discussion and the way you roll them out over time.

Too often we assume that kids know how to communicate and naturally navigate through a conversation. But this shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s important to build conversation skills, starting with simple structural activities like how to respond with a one word answer or with a sentence or with a question. Then we build on that to more complex interactions with more dialog.

Taking the time early on with many conversation skill-building activities means that later on down the road when I ask my students to “turn and talk” they are fully prepared to do that more productively.



What I did well….  

I think you get a sense for how important it is to break down every skill a student comes into the classroom with.  We can’t assume children will become fluent speakers and listeners without our support.  This video reminds us how to simplify each step and break it down into manageable chunks to help children learn the logistics and procedures needed to take their conversations to new levels.

What I would do more of or differently…

I actually teach more skills than I typically would in one setting.  I think these types of lessons are more effective when done in smaller chunks or even isolation for younger students.

Still want to grow this practice by…

I am always growing with this practice. Each year I work with students who come with different strengths and needs.  Each year I have to carefully analyze the children in my classroom and determine what lessons they need to master the prerequisite skills and social expectations that will positively impact their conversations and thus advance high quality learning.

About Courtney Fox

Courtney is an accomplished educator and respected school leader. She has been a part of the Delaware education landscape for many years, teaching ...

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