The Missouri Reader Vol. 43, Issue 1 | Page 26


Resourceful Research

Resourceful Research

Talk Moves for Student-Centered Conversations


Teaching students to comprehend text is a primary focus of instruction. Questions are a key component of comprehension instruction. When teachers want to increase thinking they engage students in discussions and ask open-ended, higher level thinking questions such as “What was the problem or main idea of this text?” However, comprehension discussions tend to be monologic; the teacher asks a question, one student responds, and the group looks to the teacher for an indication of the accuracy of the response (Beers & Probst, 2012). The aim of these after-reading conversations is getting to the right answer, not creating a dialogue with input from all students in the group. Such lessons focus on answers, not the process of sharing thinking that supports an answer or opportunities to explore nuances of a thought. Monologic, teacher-led conversations are less complex to develop and easier to regulate and deliver. The teacher asks a question, calls on a student to respond, agrees or provides feedback and moves on to the next question. The teacher controls the flow of conversation, the direction of the conversation and ultimately the understanding of the text. In teacher-led conversations, students don’t need to listen to one another, express agreement or disagreement with peers, or add new information to the group’s thinking. These conversations also focus on teacher performance, developing a ‘good’ lesson and guiding student thinking, rather than focusing on what or how students are comprehending the text.

It has been my privilege as a college professor to work with teachers and teacher candidates as they develop and refine their literacy practices. Recently, my teacher candidates (TCs) and I have been working on student-centered conversations that require active listening and thinking on both the teacher and the other participants in the group. In these discussions, the conversation becomes dialogic rather than monologic (Beers & Probst, 2012); the teacher acts as a coach rather than an interrogator. I currently work with junior level teacher candidates at a four-year institution. In my ELA course for primary grades, TCs develop guided reading lessons for a small group of four students in an urban district. Their goal is to identify an appropriate text and design a lesson that will promote small group discussion. In addition to writing open-ended questions, they anticipate how students might answer and how they might use talk moves (Chapin, O’Connor, & Anderson, 2013; The Teaching Channel, n.d.). Talk moves provide a structure for student-centered conversations. Teachers and students are taught the moves for shared discussions. Talk moves include peers restating what they heard, stating why they agree or disagree with a comment, adding-on to extend a conversation, and using text support to reinforce ideas about the text. The teacher promotes the conversation by teaching students the talk moves, asking open-ended questions, using wait time, and revoicing what s/he heard to summarize or clarify concepts.

The following is an example of a teacher-led conversation:

TC: Why did the main character change her mind?

S1: She didn’t like the teacher then she found out he was helping her.

TC: What did the author want you to learn?

S2: To like everyone even if you don’t think they like you.

TC: Would you do what the main character did in this story?

S3: No, I like all of my teachers.

This is an example of a student-centered conversation:

TC: Why did the main character change her mind?

S1: She didn’t like the teacher then she found out he was helping her.

TC: Do you all agree or disagree and why? (agree or disagree)

S2: I agree she changed her mind because at the beginning she didn’t like it when he paid attention to her but at the end she figured out he was paying attention to her to help her.

S3: I think she changed her mind because she started learning.

TC: S4 can you add to that? (add-on)

S4: I agree because she said she liked him.

TC: Who can find text to support our ideas? (text support)



Karen Loman, Nicole Nickens, Abbigail Frandsen