Talking through learning is crucial for our students. When Kindergarteners can really talk through the information we are feeding them, they become more responsible for it; therefore, they will own the information for themselves!
In Kindergarten, typically every unit has a theme. I think it is important to start every unit (or even every week of every unit) with a probing question. When we force students to think about something, they really want to get engaged and learn the answers!
This is a short and simple exercise that really shows me again and again how easy it is to guide my students through talking about their learning. I, along with my students, will really enjoy this exercise every time!
Here, I explain how and why I have students use good vocabulary to express quality thoughts!
Before you get started, here are the materials you will need:
1) A way of grouping my students.
I put my students into "Dependable Groups," that consist of a beyond-level student, an on-level student and an approaching-level student. I groups my students in this way because I feel that some students can help others who will self-monitor and know they need assistance from others. It lets my leaders lead and my kids with difficulties learn when and who to ask for help!
2) Something students can use to establish turn taking.
I use a pair of glasses. I like the glasses because they are ON you- there can't be any fighting. The way I work this is: if you have the glasses on, you are the speaker... if you don't have the glasses on, you are the listener. Also, I added another rule: you can hold the glasses in your hand in order to respond to only the person who spoke right before you (this encourages them to take the ideas of someone else and agree or expand, before stating their own ideas).
My glasses came in a 12-pack from Oriental Trading, and are animal print to match my classroom. They were sunglasses and I simply popped out the lenses- that way, even students who wear glasses can put them on!
Here is a picture of my students using their glasses to take turns when working together!
In the end, this practice will cost me little preparation and little to no money. After all, I don't have to get glasses- pretty sticks and rocks they can hold or old necklaces will work, too!
Now... On to how it goes!
The first time I introduce this practice, I always THINK they can't do it. But, with this easy, guided approach to help my students get used to this, I am able to set them up for success! I will start with a lesson similar to this, and then gradually release the responsibility to my students.
"Today, we are going to do an introduction to our new unit. I am going to tell you what we we be learning about. I will also tell you some of the vocabulary words we will be using and some of the ideas we will be discussing. At the end of my introduction, I will ask you a "thinking question." When I ask you a "thinking question," I don't want you to raise your hands or to talk- I want you to THINK! Once you have thought of at least two answers, give me a silent thumbs up."
Here is where I do my introduction.
Example Intro (vocabulary words are underlined):
"This week, we will be learning about how families cooperate. When we cooperate, we work together. So, we are going to be learning about how families work together. Some examples of this include: when brothers and sisters play games together or when you help your parents do something around the house. Some places we might cooperate with our families would be at the grocery store, in the garden, at the library and, of course, at home. Now that we know a little about what it means for families to cooperate, I want you to answer this "Thinking Question:" how do families cooperate....... Think about it.... Once you have thought of at least two answers, give me a silent thumbs up."
Once most students have their thumbs up, I will begin guiding my students.
"Today, I am going to think aloud through a conversation with two of you. After that, you are going to do the same thing with your partners. I just want to show you my expectations this time. So, ___ and ___, come be my partners."
(I choose two pretty high flying kids, so they can be a good example for conversation. I have those students sit with me where everyone else can see.)
"___ and ___ are my partners and they are the only people I am going to be talking to and listening to. So, in order to do that, we have to sit in a triangle. See?" (I make sure to model correct seating positions with the students I have chosen.)
"Now, the materials dispenser (this comes from my Gold Collar Jobs lesson) will pass out the glasses. Whoever they give the glasses to, gets to go first. No complaining; everyone will get a turn to talk. Now, to show you what I expect, I am going to get the glasses and start talking first. I am going to face my partners and I am going to say one thing I already know."
Example: "I know that families cooperate when they work together. My family does that when we do chores like laundry."
"Once I have shared one thought, I will take the glasses off and hand them to the next person. Then, they will share something else. Now, let's talk about the other types of things you could share. ____ here can say something he/she already knows, or ___ can tell his/her partners something he/she predicts. He/she can also tell his/her partners something that he/she supposes or wonders about. It would go like this...
I already know............
I predict that............
I suppose that ............
I wonder about .............
These are all great ways to start a conversation with what we are about to learn more about!"
At this time, I do an example with my two students involved and let them have a turn to show how the turn taking and speaking and listening roles work.
Example: "I am going to start over again and we are going to practice having our conversation. When we do this, the person with the glasses is going to use their speaking voice. The people who don't have the glasses are going to be good listeners- they will be looking at the speaker, they will be quiet and they will be thinking about what the speaker is saying. Watch...
I will start. I know that families cooperate when they work together. My family does that when we do chores like laundry. Now, I am going to pass the glasses. _____, tell me something you already know....." (Guide them through this.) "Now, ____ is going to pass the glasses, without talking, to _____. Now, since ____ has the glasses, he/she can talk and share his/ her idea. So, ____ tell me something you are wondering about......" (Guide them through this.)"Great! Now, ____ will pass the glasses back to me. And I can say something else. We can keep going around and talking to each other about what we already know, what we predict we might learn about, what we suppose might be some information and what we wonder about. By the end, we will have all shared two or three thoughts!"
Once I have shown them the process, I set my expectations- everyone talks, everyone listens, everyone contributes more than once, everyone respects their partners.
"Thanks to ___ and ___ for being my partners. Now that they have helped me show you how to share, I would like for you to break into your groups. I would like for you to take turns telling each other what you already know, what you predict, what you suppose and what you wonder about. I am going to walk around and listen to everyone taking turns. I expect to see good speaking and listening at all times."
I have students break into groups and make sure I monitor all groups more than once. I take a few extra turns this first time (I usually let them only say 2-3 things each). I help them adjust their volume, help them pay attention to each other and make sure to encourage them to speak in complete sentences.
Once they are done, I call them back to their spots. I also note a few great things you heard and say, "I heard ____ say ______. That was great. Let's have everyone else repeat that. ________." I make sure to use revoicing of good ideas to push students and congratulate them all on a job well done for opening their unit.
A really important piece of this lesson is the think aloud portion done by me! I cannot forget this part and it is crucial as I go through the introduction and instructional process!
After the first lesson, I like to use a reference chart I like to hang to remind students of my expectations. After that, I do this procedure every week. I create a new question weekly so we can begin each week with a conversation like this. I like to make sure they are involved first, even before we delve into it. If my students are really struggling, then I can stick to once every few weeks or even once per unit. However, I really like to dive into my information and/or main selection. If I give students TOO MUCH background knowledge, they will only be repeating what I've said and they won't have meaningful conversations.
As I delve into a topic with my students, week by week (or unit by unit), I give less and less support. I only do the introduction you see above the first two times (and maybe after a long break). I always continue to walk around and monitor and adjust no matter how many times my students have done this; that way I can continuously correct them and applaud them as well. I can provide differentiation and/or support by giving my students talk stems for thinking statements whenever needed.
I do this with the same groups every time. I do switch mid-year though if I want to, but I try to keep the students in groupings that they trust and are used to sharing ideas with. This is what really helps them work well and ensures that I am always amazed at the teamwork.
As I go through this, maybe on the third or fourth time, I introduce the idea of responding to another students' ideas. I make sure students know how to just share their own ideas before I introduce this skill (that is very important).
Last tip for making this work: I let them talk- I listen- they will learn!