Chalk Talk or Silent Discussion

Students don't always need to use their voice to "talk." Try having a silent discussion to foster deeper thinking and collaboration instead
66 teachers like this strategy

About This Strategy

In a chalk talk silent discussion, students use their chalk or their pen to "talk" with each other or engage in a written conversation about a prompt, problem or question. Often students respond to questions that are written on a poster and engage in a gallery walk around the room to explore and examine multiple prompts, problems, or questions each written on a separate poster. This strategy is a great way to promote discussion, encourage participation, and provide students with the chance to think in silence before responding to a classmate. Chalk Talk or Silent Discussion is also a versatile activity that can be used in different subjects with different grade levels, and with teachers as well as students.

Implementation Steps

15 minutes
  1. Develop questions, problems, or prompts that you'd like students to respond to that relate to your particular unit of study. The chalk talk or silent discussion can be used as an activator at the beginning of a unit, during a unit, or as a form of assessment at the end of a unit.

  2. Start by explaining the chalk talk concept to students, or consider modeling a chalk talk or silent discussion for students.

    • Be sure to explain to students how they will rotate around the room (if you are having them rotate) and where they will write their responses to the prompt.

    • Help students by practicing silent time, first for 10 seconds, then for 20, then for 30 seconds. Explain how important silence is for the chalk talk.

  3. Point to the different posters around the room (they can also be on top of desks), and have students read the questions or prompts written on them.

    • If you do not want students to walk around the room to engage in the silent discussion or chalk talk, you can have students work in pairs to engage in a silent discussion at their desks. Students can even write on their desks to engage in the discussion using white board markers. See the related lessons section below to learn more about how to engage in a "Desk Vandalism Silent Discussion."

  4. Have sets of different colored markers (5 red, 5 orange, 5 blue, etc) and hand them out to students. Or if you have enough supplies, consider giving each student a different colored marker or pen. That way, you can track each students' comments at the end of or during the silent discussion as a formative assessment.

    • Encourage more movement by telling students there cannot be more than two markers of the same color working on the same poster.

    • Consider adding an element of optional text coding (e.g., students placing a star next to comments they agree with or a question mark on comments they don't understand) can deepen the written discussion.

  5. Explain the Chalk Talk concept and go over norms with students. Consider making an anchor chart with the norms. To learn more about anchor charts, consult the "Anchor Chart" strategy.

    • Some possible norms that you could develop with students are:

      • Everyone is writing and responding throughout the designated time period and remains silent throughout the activity.

      • Everyone is responsible for writing a comment, reading others' comments, and responding to at least one to three comments on every chart paper.

      • Comments should be thoughtful and further the discussion.

  6. Allow 10 to 20 minutes for the Chalk Talk and set a timer so students know when the chalk talk time is ending. It's helpful to walk around, read, and gently point students to interesting comments. You can also engage in the silent discussion with students by writing your own comments or questions on the posters. All writing and responding is done in silence.

  7. Encourage students to use symbols to agree with or or ask questions of another person's responses. For example, if a student agrees with a peer's comments, they could add a checkmark next to the response. If they have a question about a response, they could write a question mark and then write their question next to their question mark.

  8. At the end of the allotted time, have students return to the posters and search for patterns. In pairs, students should read through all the postings and search for patterns and themes (or "notice and wonder"), and record those patterns on a piece of paper.

    • Students do not need to work in silence during this step. They can get in groups by marker color or in any other way that works best.

  9. Conduct a whole-group share. Pairs should report out patterns and themes, round-robin style, until all perceptions are shared.

Chalk Talk or Silent Discussion For Distance Learning

Tori Todd
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

A chalk talk can be used to promote engagement in a distance learning environment by giving students an opportunity to share their thinking synchronously or asynchronously. When students participate in a chalk talk, they have a chance to write their thoughts and comment on each others' thoughts using a digital tool.

Implementation steps:

  1. Develop questions, problems, or prompts that you'd like students to respond to that relate to your particular unit of study. The chalk talk or silent discussion can be used as an activator at the beginning of a unit, during a unit, or as a form of assessment at the end of a unit.

  2. Choose a digital tool to support your chalk talk. Consider the tools that your students are already familiar with. Padlet, Jamboard, Google Docs, and Google Slides are just some of the tools that can be easily adapted to suit a chalk talk and shared with students.

    • If you choose to use a new tech tool, create or find a tutorial video such as some of the tutorials below  to help your students navigate the tool.

  3. Set parameters for the online chalk talk. Tell students how much time they will have to complete the chalk talk, and set expectations for how students can respond to each other's thoughts (such as: symbols to use, how to "tag" each other, or how to "like" posts).

    • To modify this step for asynchronous learning, choose a time frame within which students can write their thoughts and respond to each other. Consider holding the chalk talk in two rounds, with the first round dedicated to students sharing their own thoughts and the second to students reading each other's thinking and responding, with a deadline for each round.

  4. If possible, use synchronous learning time to discuss patterns and themes that come from the chalk talk after completing the silent discussion.

    • To modify this step for asynchronous learning, ask students to contribute to a final poster or column of the chalk talk with the themes that they noticed after reading through each others' comments.

Questions to Consider

  • What skills do students need to be taught before you use this strategy?

  • Will you allow students to choose their own partner or will you pair up students?

  • How will you support students to transition with speed as they move from one task to the next?

  • What routines and procedures need to be in place in order for students to be successful with this strategy?

  • What will you be listening or looking for during this protocol?

  • What parts of this could potentially be challenging for students? 

  • Are there anchor charts or visuals you can reference or create to support the success of this discussion?

Coach Tips

Juan Matos
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

This is a great strategy for all teachers, but I love to use suggest it to the math teachers I work with. The teacher can write one to two word problems on each poster paper. As students rotate through the posters, have them work on one part of the solution, giving students the choice to work on the areas they feel confident they can complete.

Tech Tools

Padlet

  • Padlet is a digital corkboard type tool that students can use to gather information or reflections. Teachers can easily access each students' Padlet with a shared link.

  • If teachers do not want students to walk around the room to engage in the silent discussion or chalk talk, they can set up a separate padlet for each topic or prompt and have students visit the padlets to record their thoughts or responses.

Related Lessons

Explore the "Preparing for a Discussion Graffiti Gallery Walk" strategy by 7th grade ELA BetterLesson Master Teacher Taylor Devries to see how her students engage in a modified chalk talk using a graffiti protocol.

Explore the "Desk Vandalism Helps Students Analyze Conflicts and Types of Characters in Of Mice and Men" by 9th grade ELA BetterLesson Master Teacher Paula Stanton to see how her students engage in a paired silent discussion by writing on their desks using whiteboard markers.