Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: It Takes Two to Talk! #SOL19 #TWTBlog
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Slice of Life: It Takes Two to Talk! #SOL19 #TWTBlog


I turn and see him moving toward me.  It’s like a game of Frogger is being played down the hallway as he leaps his way between students. I slow and step to the side so he can catch me.

I saw you and I wanted to talk with you.

Sure, what’s up?

I wanted to thank you for the zip-it strategy.  Now that I know how my brain works, everything is going so much better.  Thank you for teaching me how my brain works, and how my mouth needs to work – or not work.

I honestly do not remember this young friend.  I am trying to piece together what he is saying and what I may have said to him.

It’s not just reading that is better. And it’s not just school that is better.  My soccer coach loved it and he said I am a much better player now that I zip-it and listen to my teammates.  I get yelled at a lot less at home.  A few kids at recess even invited me to play with them. They said I am less bossy.

I couldn’t get a word in edgewise and wondered how well I actually taught the zip-it strategy as he calls it.

At first it didn’t make sense.  My teacher told us you were coming in to help us talk more and grow ideas about books.  I did not understand why not talking was going to help me talk.  I really didn’t think you were some “reading expert” (he actually did air quotes) like my teacher described when you first told us that some of us needed to zip-it so we could listen and give others a chance to talk.  I mean, it hasn’t been easy.  I had to sit on my hands for weeks so I wouldn’t raise my hand and I still talk too much, but it is much less, really.  It is hard, but I can listen better when I know I am not going to talk. I mean what else is there to do except listen. It is not so bad.  So, I wanted to tell you that I thought your idea was really dumb at first, but it works. 

He merges into the oncoming traffic of students and is gone just as quickly as he came.

Based on our brief interaction, I am imagining this young friend might have been dominating talk during book clubs or interactive read aloud.  Often, several kids carry the talk for the class.  They are the first ones with their hands up.  They always have something to say.  They talk for a really long time.  The other kids get used to this.  They know they can’t beat the hand speed.  They are not sure of what they have to say.  When they do try, they often get interrupted by the dominators.  The social dynamic of talk in a classroom becomes familiar and comfortable.  Class and club discussions fall into patterns and routines.

This is typically my entry point for helping students get better at talking, truly talking, about books. I find it takes about four weeks to get kids to shift roles – talker to listener and listener to talker.  When we jump too quickly to comprehension and interpretation, we lose the art of talk.  So many kids are reporting out on ideas, not talking about ideas.  At best it is, I talk, you talk, we’re done. If we want to improve talk, we need to invest the time in teaching them how to talk and how to listen.

For me, the first step in change is always acceptance.  Kids need to identify the role they typically play in a conversation and why they play that role.  They need to understand why each role is important and how they can support classmates in shifting roles.  Ideally, everyone needs to take on both roles and we need to help each other achieve that balance.  Enter the zip-it strategy.

Once kids identify their role, I talk with each group.  The talkers need to focus on “zipping-it” and creating space for others to talk.  I share the brain research that demonstrates when our hand is up, our brain is thinking about what we want to say and not focusing on what is being said by others.  I encourage the talkers not to raise their hand.  I encourage them to look at the person who is talking and think about what they are saying – truly think about it.  This group has to get comfortable with some silence and not feel an immediate need to fill the space.  The listeners need to focus on filling the space.  They need to push themselves to say something, take a risk, not rely on others to carry the conversation.  I also encourage the listeners not to raise their hand.  They don’t need to worry about how quickly they can think of what to say.  I encourage them to look at the person who is talking and think about what they want to say.  There is no rush. They can simply look for an opening in the conversation and join as they are ready.

Old habits are hard to break. I do find it often takes about four weeks to get kids naturally engaging in a conversation.  Once we have that going, we can begin to layer on lifting the level of comprehension and interpretation.  Now what this has to do with soccer, the playground and getting in trouble at home … I don’t know. I would have asked if he gave me an opening … some friends might need more than four weeks!


Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Kelsey, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum from Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers, and teachers here.

  • Avatar
    Susan M Kennedy
    Posted at 11:29h, 30 March Reply

    this is the thinking that I carry most with me. Less raised hands, more kid to kid talk. Talk is where it all happends. Now I’m going to give that zip it a try.

  • Avatar
    Mark Raffinan
    Posted at 11:47h, 30 March Reply

    What a great little interaction! It sounds like you had quite the impact. And whenever I bring up an issue with students (e.g. talking too much, taking things too far, playground arguments), I let them know that adults still struggle through the same issues. So, I totally thought about how I need to listen more and how I (and others) might take too much air space in faculty meetings. Thank you!

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    Sherri Spelic
    Posted at 11:54h, 30 March Reply

    Amazing how much and how specifically he was able to name his gains. Congrats to you for introducing him to another side of himself.

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    Peter von Euler
    Posted at 13:02h, 30 March Reply

    I really like the sitting on the hands part of this. I definitely have some of the dominant talkers, and some of them are patient hand-raisers, but it’s true that they are thinking mostly about their next words, not on what is being said while they wait with raised hand. I’m going to try some of this work starting on Monday! Thank you.

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    Posted at 14:00h, 30 March Reply

    Sounds like a great strategy for him! I might steal it. LOL Some of my students don’t seem to realize that other people have things to say. Every thing is a person conversation rather than a group conversation. I love that he made the time to come and thank you for this strategy!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 16:31h, 30 March Reply

    The slice was already wonderful with the thank you conversation. Adding your explanation made added a helpful dimension to it. Thank you!

  • Avatar
    andy Robek
    Posted at 00:48h, 31 March Reply

    Each of your slices is a bonus – a slice plus. Thank you for taking the time to slice and then offer an explanation or further insight almost daily.

  • Avatar
    Posted at 02:44h, 31 March Reply

    This is exactly what I need right now. I haven’t done a great job of getting all voices in the room this year. With your help, I’m changing that starting Monday. Thank you.

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