Engaging and Extending Meaningful Student Dialog in the Classroom


Research has shown that engaging students in academic discourse plays a key role in student learning, and to better engage students in this type of talk.

Often, classroom talk is centered on the teacher presenting information, the teacher asking quick answer questions, and students answering those questions. When we think about learning classrooms we want to change these teaching interactions to learning interactions. Within learning interactions, most of the dialogue comes from students. They discuss concepts, express ideas, challenge others’ thinking, and answer deep learning questions presented by the teacher.

The fact is that many students lack the skills they need to focus, deepen, and extend conversations about academic topics. Engaging in rich academic conversations is not something with which many students are familiar. They will need to be taught how to engage in discourse, be provided ample opportunity to practice their new skills and be given feedback on their practice.

When teaching students how to engage in rich conversations, you must teach them to not only how to talk about a concept, but also how to listen to their peers. Very often students check out when another student is talking simply because they are used to the Initiate-Response-Evaluate (IRE) cycle of talk. If they are not called on, then they don’t have to worry about answering the question. What the student is saying who is answering the question does not hold relevance to them.

When students engage in rich conversations, the opposite is actually true. It is very important for students to listen to each other in order to have a discussion or dialogue.

The following are strategies (Smith & Stein. 2011) that can be used in both whole group and small group discourse settings that will help students to learn to talk with and listen to each other:

Re-voicing: Involves having students repeat what another student said. For example, the teacher asks a question, Student A answers the question, then the teacher asks Student B to tell her what Student A just said. Re-voicing is a very low-risk way to bring students into a discussion. Re-voicing can be implemented in both small and large group discussions. If, when a teacher is walking around observing small groups and notices that a student is not participating, he or she may ask that student to tell her what someone’s idea is. Again, this is a low-risk situation because the student being asked only needs to repeat verses create an idea.

Restating: Is similar to re-voicing but rather than have a student repeat what another student has said, they are asked to restate that person’s idea/answer in their own words. This is another low-risk strategy, but it begins to involve students at a deeper level within the discussion and the topic.

Applying Reasoning: Involves having a student add on to another student’s idea/answer. For example, the teacher asks a question, Student A answers the question, the teacher then asks if anyone would like to add to Student A’s response, Student B is called on and re-voices or restates what Student A said than then says ‘ I would add that….’. Applying Reasoning can also include students revising or refuting what another student’s answer/idea as both are opportunities to apply their own reasoning. Students should always begin with what the other student’s idea/answer so they can demonstrate that the understood what was said, and then provide their revision or rebuttal. Applying reasoning is a high stakes strategy because students are stepping out on a limb with their own thinking and reasoning. In a Learning Classroom the environment is one in which students will feel safe taking this step and the student whose idea/answer is being added to, revised, or refuted understands that the discussion is not about them personally, but about the topic being discussed. When working with students on how to apply this strategy, teachers need to address tone of voice, body language, and word choice as all play a role in keeping the focus on the topic and not an individual.

Teach & Kids Learn (TKL) offers teachers and schools several self-paced online courses to consider in helping educators in providing a learning environment that is conducive for student academic talk. Please review the following options for your next professional development opportunity.

Building Academic Language Skills and English Language Learners (ELL) through Dialogue, Discussion, and Discourse

Creating Learning Classrooms for Today’s Students, Grades K-12

Increasing Student Engagement: Planning Outside the Box, Grades K-12