Teaching Tip Tuesday–Chalk Talk!

Our teaching strategy for the week is Chalk Talk!!

Mrs. Monahan had a great instructional activity she used in her classroom with her Psychology students.  After a unit on gender roles, her students wrote advice for males and females on the board.  To compile the information, they created one male figure and one female life-size figure out of butcher paper and wrote the corresponding information in each figure.  This was an excellent way to assess student learning and to help students connect with the material and make real-world applications.  Students were actively engaged and enjoyed the activity.  What a great idea!

Chalk Talk is a very similar strategy with a couple of twists.  It is a silent way to reflect, generate ideas, check on learning, or solve problems. Because it is done completely in silence, it gives groups a change of pace and encourages thoughtful contemplation. It can be an unforgettable experience.

1. The teacher explains VERY BRIEFLY that Chalk Talk is a silent activity. (No one may talk at all. Anyone may add to the chalk talk as they please.) You can comment on other people’s ideas simply by drawing a connecting line to the comment. It can also be very effective to say nothing at all except to put finger to lips in a gesture of silence and simply begin with #2.

2. The teacher writes a relevant question in a circle on the board. Sample questions:
· What did you learn today?
· So what? Or now what?
· Why does this matter to you?
· How can we keep the noise level down in this room?
· How can you apply this concept to your life?
· What advice would you give….
· How does this concept connect with…
· What do you know about…

3. The facilitator either hands a marker to everyone or places many markers at the board and hands several to people at random.

4. People write as they feel moved. There are likely to be long silences—that is natural, so allow plenty of wait time before deciding it is over.

5. How the facilitator chooses to interact with the Chalk Talk influences its outcome. The facilitator can stand back and let it unfold or expand thinking by:
· circling other interesting ideas, thereby inviting comments to broaden
· writing questions about a participant comment adding his/her own reflections or ideas
· adding his/her own reflections or ideas
· connecting two interesting ideas/comments together with a line and adding a question mark
**Being an active participant encourages students to do the same kinds of expansions.

Practical Uses for Chalk Talk
Assessing prior knowledge
Before starting a unit, assess what the students already know about the topic so you can plan instruction accordingly.  Begin by writing in the center of the chart paper, “What do we know about (the presidential election process, sharks, the circulatory system, families, the moon, etc.)?” and let your students write all they know on the page. Leave the chart up for the entire unit, using it as a resource. As you progress through the unit ask your students to correct any misconceptions that they may have had at the outset.

Assessing what was learned
At the end of a unit, ask, “What did we learn about (the Industrial Revolution, spiders, the Brooklyn Bridge, exploding manhole covers, etc.)” Then compare what the students say they’ve learned with your goals or expected outcomes for the unit. Not only will you assess your students’ learning, you will be able to assess your own teaching and determine whether your goals were appropriate to begin with.

Discussing difficult issues
Sometimes it’s hard to get kids to talk about certain issues, especially when it involves their own behavior in a group. Chalk Talk can be a way to overcome this problem. On your chart write the question, “How did we work in our groups to complete this project?” Tell your students that no individual names may be used. Stand back and watch them go, they might be writing till next week. Next, write the more important question, “What can we, as a group and as individuals, do next time to make sure that the group works better?” The students may really begin to take responsibility for their own behavior.

Solving problems
When there is a problem in the classroom (interpersonal or related to an academic issue) that is likely to cause arguments, denials, or defensiveness, Chalk Talk once again proves useful. “What can we do about our class’ behavior with …?” can generate great ideas, as can, “How can we make sure that we all do the homework that is necessary for our class work to progress?” All the suggestions can be compiled and a course of action decided upon by the class.

Recording what was discussed
When a Chalk Talk discussion is over, you will have a written record, if done on chart paper. You can categorize them, look for commonalities, count how many people said what, etc. I give the compilations back to participants to expand upon even more.

Communicating to others
Chalk Talk communicates a large body of knowledge to an outside group or individual. Students in one hour or grade level could do a Chalk Talk to communicate to another hour or grade level what they can expect to do and learn.  The benefits of using a conversation in writing are enormous. To start, quiet students have as much opportunity as outgoing ones to offer their thoughts. Your class clown cannot as easily disrupt this conversation, nor can your most articulate students dominate. Given the reflective nature of Chalk Talk, you’ll also find that dissenting viewpoints can be more easily “heard” and responded to in a thoughtful fashion.

If you have an instructional strategy or activity to share, invite me into your room!  I love to see and share our successes and strengths.


One thought on “Teaching Tip Tuesday–Chalk Talk!

  1. Pingback: Teaching Tip Tuesday–Observations & Evaluations | MSB instructional coach blog

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