Four strategies for teaching talkativeness

By Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer

In an earlier post on the interdependent relationship between talkativeness and cognitive development, I shared Vygotsky’s theory on vocabulary acquisition as the defining moment in cognitive development, as well as the classic 1965 Hart & Risley study that validated the connection between thought and language. This follow-up post takes the discussion to the application of theory and research and explores teachers’ roles in providing for meaningful talkativeness in their classrooms.

Teachers are Instrumental in Developing Talkativeness
Understanding the teacher’s role in engineering a classroom rich with talkativeness begins with understanding some teachers’ tacit beliefs about students’ levels of talkativeness. In a 2011 study, researchers found that teachers were more likely to use high-powered, social strategies with talkative students and peer-focused, indirect strategies with students who displayed shy or quiet tendencies in the classroom (Coplan, et. al., 2011). Further, qualitative analysis of survey data indicate that teachers were more likely to believe that shy or quiet students were less intelligent and might struggle academically, whereas talkative students were more intelligent and more likely to achieve. While it is ill-advised to draw definitive inferences from a single data set, especially one that goes against conventional wisdom that still (or quiet) waters run deep, this study opens the door for a review of disconfirming evidence—instructional strategies and classroom practices are designed to promote talkativeness among all learners. Here are four strategies for teaching talkativeness:

A Simple Rule
Dylan Wiliam (2012; BBC 2016) spent a school year working with Year 8 students in the UK, which would be the US equivalent of the seventh grade. Throughout the two-episode, two-hour documentary, viewers easily note the differences between exuberant and shy students. The talkers were in charge—when a question was asked, talkers’ hands waved enthusiastically. Although Wiliam employed multiple strategies to increase learning across this campus, he began with a simple rule—hands up only to ask a question. He followed with a classroom practice that would share talkativeness among all learners—students’ names were written on flat craft sticks. Teachers would draw a stick with a student’s name and that student would respond. The practice was instantly abhorred by the eager talkers and their quieter peers. Talkers didn’t like not talking as much as the quieter students were disenchanted with the randomized “opportunity” to share their thinking. The teachers, with guidance from Wiliam, their colleagues, and even their students, persisted. The classroom discourse became ablaze with content area vocabulary, evidence to support positions, and a host of facts and figures.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
If teachers expect talkativeness, they must teach it—perhaps in the same way we learn to speak. Toddlers learn language, in part, by imitating others. They hear a word and give it a try. Those nearby often repeat the word to the child, providing context and expanding the conversation. Teachers mimic this when students in their classrooms are surrounded by words, phrases, written ideals, formulas, proofs, and speeches. Teachers developing talkativeness take that visible language and put it to use by putting words in their mouths (Pete and Fogarty, 2005). For example, a teacher may post:

The Constitution only gives people the right to happiness. You have to catch it yourself.
Benjamin Franklin

Students are challenged to unpack the meaning of the quote; then to imitate Franklin’s oracy in a modern context. For example, a student may restate through imitation to say:

Public school only gives people the right to seek an education. You must earn what you learn.

Students must imitate the formality of the language, the tone of the quote, and the speaker’s craft. In the Franklin example, Benjamin compared existence (of a right) to acting (on that right). The student mimicked Franklin by comparing the access (to school) to willingness (to work for an education). Use caution that you vet quotes you find online to ensure that the attribution is accurate.

Take a Minute
Wondering about “oracy?” Let’s take a minute to think it through. Researchers from the University of Cambridge state that oracy might be more important for people when they leave school than other, more concrete skills (Mercer, 2014). This strategy—The Think Minute—may lead to deeper understandings of concepts simply by granting students dedicated time to think about one idea. As teachers and students work through a lesson, the teacher pauses, sets a timer for 60 seconds and instructs students to take a “think minute.” After 60 seconds, students share their thoughts first with a partner; then within a group of four. A think minute generates massive amounts of talking about a concept—which, as Vygotsky would say, leads to the development of that concept.

Take Five
The think minute is best placed within instruction. This is a highly-structured process and teachers are instrumental in keeping students on track. At the end of instruction, students work in A/B partnerships. To begin, A is given one minute to describe what he or she now understands about the content. B listens without interruption. Then B is given one minute to share thinking or correct misconceptions brought forward by A. (Likewise, A must listen without interruption). Two minutes and counting. Next, A is given 45 seconds; then B responds for 45 seconds. Three minutes, 30 seconds and counting. Now A spends 30 seconds in response to B. In turn, B responds for 30 seconds. Four minutes, 30 seconds and counting. Finally, A summarizes his or her thinking in 15 seconds. B follows with his or her own 15-second summary. Five minutes spent between two learners hashing and rehashing what they understand. Metacognition becomes not only visible; it becomes audible.

Let’s Keep Talking
In two blog posts about talkativeness, we’ve explored research about talkativeness and achievement. Additionally, we’ve reviewed proven classroom practices. We also invite you to comment below and share your strategies for productive talkativeness.

British Broadcasting Network (2016). The Classroom Experiment. Retrieved 02/18/16 from
Coplan, R. Hughes, K., Bosacki, S. & Rose-Kranson, L. (2014). Is silence golden? Elementary school teachers’ strategies and beliefs regarding hypothetical shy/quest and exuberant/talkative children. Journal of Educational Psychology, October 2011, 104(40); 939-951.
Hart, B. & Risley, R. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company. Baltimore, MD.
Mercer, N. (2014) Why teach oracy? University of Cambridge. Retrieved 02/18/16 from
Pete, B. & Fogarty, R. (2005). Close the achievement gap. Fogarty and Associates, Ltd. Chicago, IL.
Wiliam, D. (2012). The classroom experiment: Episode 1. Retrieved 02/18/16 from
Wiliam, D. (2012). The classroom experiment: Episode 2. Retrieved 02/18/16 from

Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer
Jan Bryan, EdD, Vice President, National Education Officer
Jan Bryan has more than 20 years of classroom and university teaching experience. Her work at Renaissance focuses on formative assessment, exploring data in a growth mindset, and literacy development.

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