Quick talk about texts

Short-burst pair or group talk activities which can be woven into reading lessons


In other posts, I’ve suggested that the most effective whole-class reading sessions allow for seamless weaving together of whole-class discussion, individual thinking time and pair or small group talk. below are some examples of typical, short pair or group talk activities (30 seconds to a couple of minutes) which can be woven into reading lessons so that pupils are required to retrieve and to rehearse knowledge, to develop and refine understandings, and to practise the articulation of these things, as well as develop their independence and their personal and social confidence as readers.

Of course, any of these may well be preceded by silent thinking time, so that individuals are primed for talk. And they are all likely themselves to precede class discussion, in which the teacher will use follow-up questioning and explanation to move pupils’ understanding forward.

All may be planned; however, they may well be improvised – dropped in to a lesson because they are helpful for the development of ideas, for the focusing of pupils’ thinking, or just to manage pace.

There will be lots of others; these are just some that I find useful.


Simply talking about a question or proposition

This is usually about stirring up thinking – bringing thoughts and language to the surface before further, teacher-led discussion – to ensure that all pupils are ready to contribute and listen.

‘In pairs, think about the answer to…’

‘Just talk to the person next to you for 30 seconds about why…’

‘Find out if your partner agrees with you about…’

‘Tell your partner your opinion on…’


Listening to each other’s thoughts, feelings or responses

These are often initial or new responses to a text, shared between individuals in a structured exchange, so that all pupils have had to articulate these and so that all pupils have heard a range of personal reactions. Pupils will have had time to process first, often in writing.

‘Pick one thing that you’ve written down and share it with…’

‘Tell each other how the text…’

‘Now ask each other to tell you…’


Working together to find examples in the text

Usually, pupils are mining a text for features, details, examples or evidence, but with some pre-loaded challenge: ‘References to…’, ‘Adverbs which,..’, ‘Phrases which are…’, ‘Examples of where the writer has…’ The kind of talk required will have been modelled by the unpicking of an example first. Often, this is fast and reactive – looking quickly for something mentioned in discussion.

‘OK, now see if you can find more examples, which, like that one…’

‘See if, in two minutes, you can identify some more…’

‘Right – everybody look for another example of…  Now tell your partner what you’ve…’

‘In pairs, see if there’s any more evidence of…’


Thinking up useful language or other material

Pupils are tasked to provide words or concepts, to feed response or to prepare the ground conceptually for a text or discussion.

‘In pairs, come up with six words to describe…’

‘Try to think of three possible ways in which…’

‘Make a quick list of things you associate with…’

Agree or disagree

Forming a consensus about something

In response to a given statement or, more spontaneously, to an idea raised in discussion, pupils have to arrive at a position about an interpretative, moral or other proposition, enforcing debate and accountability.

‘In pairs, decide whether you agree or disagree with…’

‘Think about this for a moment. Now decide together what your position is on…’


Selecting something from the text

This simple device, however artificial, is a very effective way of requiring close reading and reflection, and of ensuring that all pupils have a contribution to make to further discussion. It might be done by pairs, or – more usually – by individuals who then share their choices with each other.

‘What, to you, is the most interesting phrase in…?’

‘What do you think is the single most important word in the…?’

‘Which one image did you find most…?’

‘On your own, choose…  Now tell your partner which…’


Deciding between two or more options

Pupils are presented with a given dilemma, to probe responses and imaginative involvements, or to tease out analytic possibilities.

‘Which character would you rather…?’

‘Which of these would be the best word to convey…?’

‘If you were … which would you have…?’


Recalling, sharing and reflecting on stored experience

Summoning up details from previous teaching, reading or experience, preparing the ground for new learning while practising retrieval.

‘Think back to when we… Now tell each other which one detail you…’

‘First, tell each other about one occasion when…’

‘Actually, before you tell me, just tell each other how…’


Working together to express an idea in carefully chosen words

Pupils might practise turning an already-discussed idea into a sentence or other tight expression. This might be completely oral, or they might have to write it down. Language, expression and writerly decisions have to be articulated and justified.

‘See if you can come up with a way to put that as precisely as possible.’

‘Work together to write a single, clear sentence which…’


Posing a question for discussion

Pupils are tasked to provide questions about the text or to move discussion forwards.

‘With your partner, write down one question about…’

‘In threes, come up with three questions that we need to answer about…’


Talking to each other in role

In tightly circumscribed roleplay, pupils become characters or other given people, to rehearse their knowledge and understandings while – importantly – having to adapt their language and perspective.

‘Person A is… and Person B is… You’ve got one minute to…’

‘’Person A is… and is going to ask Person B about…’


Deciding on categories or orders of things

Pupils complete a brief sequencing or categorising activity, a Venn diagram or other quick sorting activity, to generate ideas or to clarify thinking.

‘OK, we’ve come up with several words there. Quickly, put them in the order which…’

‘Right, now finish the Venn diagram so that…’


See also: other posts on whole-class reading

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