How To Get All Of Your Students Talking

It can be challenging to encourage students to actively participate in your lesson. Veteran Teacher, Lisa,  draws on her teaching experience and shares her favorite classroom strategies for equitable participation. 

Get all your students talking

Picture this: the ideal classroom. You ask a question and every hand shoots up. Kids are thrilled to participate and are not afraid to make mistakes, because they know that even if their answer is wrong, it is okay. Conversations are rich and related to the content. Now, obviously, as teachers, we know that this almost never happens, but there are many strategies that great teachers use in order to create a culture for equitable participation in their classrooms. Equitable participation means a classroom with routines and procedures that ensure all students participate equally.

Here are some of my favorite strategies for equitable participation: 

Differentiation and Partnerships

One of the best ways to ensure that all kids can participate is to make sure that work is differentiated for students at various levels. Not all students read, write, or participate in math the same way, and many students may excel in one area and have a relative weakness in another. It is important to know your students well, which comes within the first month or two, and then you can effectively group students in order to maximize participation. I typically like to group similar reading levels together in order to target skills and strategies with a group or partnership. Sometimes, in small groups (more than a partnership of two students), I will have two pairs of kids, each pair made up of one higher and one lower academically to promote conversation. Partner work and collaboration is so important in all subjects, especially for the kids that struggle. 

Turn and Talk/Think, Pair, Share

Not all children think at the same speed, and many need processing time or to talk out their ideas in a small partnership before feeling comfortable sharing with the entire class. Try to switch up the way you ask for responses by taking time to elicit a turn and talk, or think, pair, share with the class. During these times, students will pause for a moment to think, turn to the person next to them (or a designated partner, or a small group), and talk through a response in that group before returning to the whole class to share. This type of participation typically leads to much greater conversation and allows for students who may need a minute to think or hear another peer’s thoughts the time to think through their responses.



A jigsaw is a tried and true way to truly ensure everyone participates. The premise of a jigsaw is that within small groups, each student is reading a different text. After reading, the group comes back together to hear each person share out about his or her text. Because only one student in each group is responsible for each text, it holds kids accountable for their parts. Jigsaws can sometimes make kids feel stressed, and a way to alleviate this is to allow for all members of the class who read the same article to come together to discuss the article prior to going back and teaching what they learned to their groups. 

Chalk Talk

A chalk talk is a fabulous way to get kids participating, especially those that don’t typically participate verbally. A chalk talk does not have to involve literal chalk, but is an exercise in which students respond to prompts on the white board, chalkboard, or chart papers in writing silently. The kids are not allowed to speak at all, but can converse through written words, symbols, and punctuation. For example, a student may respond to a prompt with words, and another student may put a checkmark next to those words if he or she agrees. Then, as the groups rotate through the classroom, responding to different prompts, the “conversations” come alive and can be revisited at the end! Students often feel validated when they see arrows, stars, checkmarks, question marks, and responses to what they have written, and it is a great way to ensure all kids participate. 

Popsicle Sticks

My favorite, easiest way to shake up the classroom partnerships and conversations is to pull popsicle sticks. I use popsicle sticks with the kids’ names on them every single day in my classroom, from assigning groups, to partners, to choosing people to run errands. Sometimes, we unintentionally, consistently group the same kids together without realizing it, and this can lead to dynamics of conversation we don’t necessarily intend upon. We want to make sure all kids have an opportunity to interact with each other, and the randomization of popsicle stick picking lets us do that. 

How do you get your students talking? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Lisa Koplik is a fourth-grade teacher at the Greenwood School in Wakefield, Massachusetts. She loves teaching math, reading intense read-aloud books that promote complaints when she has to stop reading, and figuring out educational games to play with her students. Check out her video series on classroom management


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