Turn and talk speaking and listening

6 Tips For Using Turn And Talk Effectively 

Mar 24, 2024

A few weeks ago I shared a blog post outlining 6 reasons every teacher should be using Turn and Talk in their literacy classrooms everyday. (Click here to read that post). 

Now that I've shared some reasons on WHY you should be doing it every day, I thought it would be helpful to provide some tips on HOW to do it effectively. You see, there's a little bit more to it than just asking your students to turn the person next to them and start talking...  

So, here’s my top 6 tips on getting the most out of this strategy in your literacy classroom: 


1. Pose rich questions 

"Critically, we found that teachers' use of questions made a difference to the quality of students' responses: High-challenge questions... were associated with responses that were more grammatically complex and included greater use of causal language" (Blything et.al, 2019).

 The more effective your questions, the richer your students’ discussions.

Good quality questions are often hard to come up with in the moment so I strongly recommend pre-planning your Turn and Talk questions beforehand. That way you will know WHAT question you want to ask at WHICH point in the lesson.

Questioning tips: 

  • Open questions are better than closed. 
  • One good question is better than 10 ineffective ones. 
  • Consider building in a 30-second 'think time' before asking students turn and talk to their partner. This is practice is often referred to as 'think, pair, share'.


2. Keep the talk time short and sharp 

I recommend keeping the discussion time for Turn and Talks to 1-2 minutes at a maximum. Any longer than this and students can become any combination of fidgety / distracted off topic and/or disinterested.

Pace is critical! Keep it snappy and moving along at a good pace. 

Timing tips: 

  • Tell your students how much time they’ll have to talk. 
  • Set a timer that students can see. 
  • Stick to the promised time.  


3. Listen in, rather than join in 

Ideally, while your students are talking, you should be roaming the classroom and eavesdropping in on the conversations.  

You don’t want to waste this opportunity to gather some quick informal data by pairing yourself up with the one student who doesn’t have a partner. (Tip: Have the leftover student join another pair instead of talking to you).  

While you’re roaming and listening, you can select conversations you think are worthy of being shared with the entire class afterwards: ‘I heard you say something interesting Paige, can you share your thinking with the class?’ 


4. Use a non-verbal cue to regain your students' attention 

Contrary to what happens in many classrooms, the most efficient and effective method for regaining your students’ attention after a Turn and Talk session is NOT to yell out over the top of everyone. It’s actually to use a non-verbal cue such as a buzzer, bell or hand clap. 

Non-verbal cues are an absolute essential in every classroom. I think they're so important that I wrote a whole blog post about them. (Click here to read it.)


5. Consider the share time after the Turn and Talk 

Two of the main attractions to using the Turn and Talk protocol in your literacy classroom include that it: 

  • ensures every student gets to share their voice and be heard. 
  • saves precious teaching and learning time (because you can have every student share in a fraction of the time it would take every student to individually share their ideas with the whole class). 

Taking these two benefits into account, you need to be judicious about what your post-Turn and Talk sharing looks like. You don’t want to have a Turn and Talk and then make students sit through listening to every group sharing their ideas back to the whole class. It's actually OK to move on without having any students share to the whole group! #permissiongranted.

Tips for the share time after Turn and Talk: 

  • Minimise the number of students sharing their ideas to the whole class after the Turn and Talk (ask yourself if they really need to share to the class at all?) 
  • Tell students that in the share time you’ll be asking people to share back what their partner said (rather than what they said themselves). This approach significantly increases accountability for listening and allows the ideas of lesser-heard voices to be shared. Note: for maximum impact with this approach, you should let your students know you’ll be using this approach before they start their Turn and Talk. 


6. Train your students 

Let your students know your Turn and Talk expectations right from the beginning of the year (and right from the beginning of Foundation).  

These expectations usually include: 

  • You turn the person who happens to be sitting right next to you. (i.e. No need to go finding your friends or wasting time by getting up and moving about the classroom).  
  • Stick to the given topic. 
  • Show good listening skills (look at the speaker, nod, pay attention). 
  • Ask questions.
  • Finish your conversation as soon as you hear the non-verbal cue.  


Turn and Talk is a wonderful teaching practice to use in the literacy classroom and, if you follow the tips I've provided in this post, you should be able to extract maximum impact from its use.

Remember: simply by implementing a minimum of one Turn and Talk in every literacy lesson you'll be achieving my goal of never letting a student get through a literacy lesson without speaking.



Related Blog Posts



  • Blything, L.P., Hardie, A. and Cain, K. (2019) ‘Question asking during reading comprehension instruction: A corpus study of how question type influences the linguistic complexity of primary school students’ responses’, Reading Research Quarterly, 55(3), pp. 443–472. doi:10.1002/rrq.279.

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