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Building Bigger Ideas

A Process for Teaching Purposeful Talk

By Maria Nichols

Strategies and moves to teach elementary students how to have meaningful conversations, about books and beyond.

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Full Description

Study after study shows that as students grow, they become increasingly focused on technology-driven communication. Cyber-dialogue replaces face-to-face interactions in all aspects of their lives. And yet, has there ever been a greater need for students to learn the art of “talk,” to be able to converse “live” with others, to collaborate, negotiate, and learn from one another? To use talk to think, and to build new ideas?

Maria Nichols guides us beyond teaching students to talk politely about books to teaching them to have meaningful conversations—purposeful talk that serves as a tool for constructing understanding with others. She provides a flexible process that gives teachers a solid foundation in facilitating discussions, allowing them to meet the challenges of unpredictable, exploratory talk in the elementary classroom.  She shows teachers:

  • strategies to address different talk personalities and the dynamic nature of talk

  • specific teaching moves to use when facilitating talk

  • how to use a cycle of focus, facilitation, and feedback to deepen students’ ability with talk

  • important “look-fors” to assess children’s talk with an inquiry mindset.

The voices of children engaged in meaningful classroom conversations are scattered throughout the book, allowing teachers to see how Maria’s strategies work. “What I hope emerges from children’s talk,” Maria writes, “is their brilliance, the depth of thinking and understanding that becomes possible when they engage in purposeful talk, and the sheer joy of dialogic classrooms.”

(click any section below to continue reading)


Ch. 1: Purposeful Talk in the World Beyond School
Ch. 2: A Place for Purposeful Talk to Thrive
Ch. 3: A Process for Teaching Purposeful Talk
Ch. 4: Teaching Children to Hear All Voices
Ch. 5: Teaching Children to Grow Ideas
Ch. 6: Teaching Children to Negotiate Meaning
Ch. 7: Assessing Purposeful Talk


Companion Resources

Facilitative Language Shifts for Hearing All Voices (Figure 4.1)

Facilitative Language Shifts for Growing Ideas (Figure 5.2)

Facilitative Language Shifts for Negotiating Meaning (Figure 6.1)

Assessing Purposeful Talk (Figure 7.1)