Partner talk is an important skill that gives students the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with others, practice their communication skills, learn the important skill of getting along with others, and if partner talk is structured properly, it gives the opportunity to have student’s understanding of a topic checked more regularly than a teacher can provide because of the student to teacher ratio.
What exactly is partner talk? Partner talk is structured discussion of a given topic between two students. Partner talk works best when only 2 students are involved, the partners know what is expected of them, and there is a time limit.
How do you teach partner talk? Partner talk takes practice, but before you can practice the skill of partner talk, students need to understand that being good at partner talk is a skill and there are rules. Before I begin to have students practice partner talk I have the class brain storm with chart paper ‘What successful partner talk looks like’, ‘What partner talk should NOT look like’, and lastly ‘Why is partner talk important?’. It is my belief that if students do not understand why it is important for them to do something, then they will not put in the efforts to do it well.
After the rules are in place, the next step is to have students sit in partners. (For the first few times you will need to be careful who you assign as partners together as you will want the first time to go as smooth as possible! But, make sure to place an emphasis on the fact that the goal of partner talk is that students can work cooperatively with anyone in the classroom!) Next, assign each partner the label of ‘partner A’ or ‘partner B’. (The easiest way I have found to assign partner A or B labels is to label the partner who is closest to the door is partner A and the partner furthest way from the door becomes partner B). Once everyone has the label, you are going to have each set of partners practice partner talk. This mean one listens and one speaks. Give the students an easy discussion for this practice session. For example you might say:
“Partner A is going to speak first, Partner A is going to tell their partner what their favourite food is and what makes it their favourite for the next 30 seconds, and GO!”
After the 30 seconds are up you will then stop all of the partner A’s, and the partner B’s will have their turn to tell their partner what their favourite food is and why they like that particular food while partner A listens. After the first partner talk session make sure to congratulate the students on how well they are doing, even if it wasn’t perfect let them know that partner talk can be tough and with practice it will become easier and easier!
After you have the rules of partner talk established, and students know what is expected of them, have the class practice partner talk regularly and switch up the partners.
Partner Talk Practice Lesson Ideas:
Here is a fun lesson idea to practice partner talk! Read the class a picture book and stop the story periodically to have students predict what will happen next in the story, have them create their predictions with play dough. After their play dough creations are complete, have students turn to their partner and give them 30 seconds to tell their partner what their prediction is and then listen as their partner shares their predictions.
Create or find cards with common questions such as: what is your favourite animal? Where is the furthest place you have traveled to? Or, how many brothers or sisters do you have? Give each student a card and have students get out of their seats and find a partner. Once every student has a partner have the students answer the two questions one at a time practicing being the speaker and the listener. Once students are finished, students will trade cards and find a different partner.
If you can teach something you know it well! In math have students work with a partner and have partner A teach a math strategy to partner B! Partner B will then listen and apply the strategy that partner A has taught them. Students can then reverse roles. This would be a good activity to do before completing a math journal.