Using “accountable talk” to set a high standard of student discourse in your classroom.

by Mark Sandy

All Grades


“Accountable talk” is a framework that sets a standard for children to be able to respectfully state their opinions and propel each other to a higher levels of thinking. Once students learn how to be accountable for their own self-expression, this ability transfers through all subject matter.

The key to implementing this strategy is in setting up the foundation. I create this culture in the beginning of the term and then support it throughout the year.

What this looks like:

–First, I guide the students to understand that what they say is important and necessary. They take responsibility for their individual learning as well as the learning of the classroom.

–Next, I create stems in order for the students to better communicate using academic vocabulary. Using sentence strips and charts around the classroom, I present ways for the students to agree, disagree, and challenge each other on a regular basis until it becomes natural. This is based on the same vocabulary I use when addressing them.

–Then, once students become comfortable with this framework, there is a culture shift. If one student disagrees with another, instead of saying “that’s wrong,” they say “I disagree because” and provide evidence and support for their statement. Students also pose probing questions to each other that display their thinking and knowledge. Children learn things they didn’t know they could from each other and that I might not have been able to bring out as a teacher. In this way they take responsibility not only for their own learning but also for the learning of the entire classroom.

Accountable talk is versatile and extendable because it is applicable across a broad range of subject matter and grade levels. The results are always similar once the classroom culture changes and students become more accountable to one another.


What I did well…

My presentation of Accountable talk helps people remember that the teacher should not be the center of the classroom. I engaged the learners with the presentation by being interactive as well as introducing Active listening which is a very important element of Accountable talk. When everyone in the class is accountable for the learning we are able to accomplish so much more. Having participants understand and create sentence stems, which they could use immediately in their classroom, was also a successful part of the presentation.

What I would do more of, better or differently…

I would have created a short lesson where the participants would need to use Accountable talk the way the children would in a real classroom situation. Experiencing Accountable talk would be a valuable next step after learning the importance of developing it.

I still want to grow in this practice by…

I need to give direction and allow students to run the class with timely and challenging prompts. I don’t need to micromanage or take back control. When you have a culture of Accountable talk the paradigm of the class will be student centered, authentic and measurable.

About Mark Sandy

Mark A. Sandy was born in Brooklyn, NY to parents who emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago. Mark attended Nassau Community College and received an As...

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