Teaching: Proper Paired Talk (in 5 steps)

(Note: I probably use this one in close to a third of all my literature lessons.)

Paired talk is often done very poorly in the classroom. Students can easily drift off topic or the conversation can be dominated by one or the other person. Also, an imbalance in confidence or ability can lead to ineffective discussion.

To fix this, I developed a system of paired talk that breaks down any question/ topic into 5 simple steps.

STEP 1: “So, what’s the question?”

This is where the pair clarify the question and make sure they both understand it (even if they just repeat it to eachother)

STEP 2: “I bet you’re thinking…”

This is where the pair guess what eachother is thinking about the question. A great way to take the pressure out of the situation, it turns discussion into a game. Also, the ideas of the ‘stronger’ student won’t dominate, whilst the ‘weaker’ can experiment with ideas. In-built differentiation!

STEP 3: “I’m DYING to tell you…”

This is where the pair tells eachother the most important thing on their mind, regarding the question at hand. The good thing about this is that it gives a forum to that burning desire feeling a lot of kids have, when they have an idea they can’t let go of. I have seen Year 7s literally fall to their knees at this stage, screaming “I’m DYYYING to tell you!” Nothing wrong with a few theatrics.

STEP 4: “We both seem to agree that…”

This is where the pair works out what they both agree on. I usually allow a bit longer for this part of the discussion. By this stage, the pair really is collaborating and refining their ideas. Assessment For Learning in full effect…

STEP 5: “What I don’t quite get is…”

In this final stage the students discuss what they don’t quite understand or what is troubling them about the question. An incredibly useful stage in discussion which leads naturally onto deeper analysis/ exploration. I like to pause after this point to have a class discussion about problematic areas.

This strategy can be used for any discursive question and is the perfect way of teeing up PEE (Point, Evidence, Explanation) writing. Questions I have used in the past include:

  • How does the writer attempt to make us dislike this character?
  • Is the narrator reliable?
  • Why does Mina say ‘We could be living in heaven right now?’ (My Name is Mina by David Almond)

If possible, get the kids on their feet for this, facing eachother in a traverse. I also give very strict timings for each stage of discussion (usually about a minute each), to keep the pace up. They enjoy bellowing out the phrases too – wakes them up a bit. I’m now finding that many students are confident enough to go through the stages independently.

I urge you to try this out at least once in an upcoming lesson, as a precursor to any analytical writing. It fills students’ minds with ideas and allows them to interrogate a question comfortably. It’s also a very, very quick method of generating ideas.

Right then. Until next time,

-Unseen Flirtations


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