Once upon a time, not so many years ago, most teachers stood in front of their classes and talked at their students. That’s less common now—classrooms today are more student-centered, with students driving some of their learning while teachers act as guides. This can be a challenge in any classroom, but it’s particularly challenging in kindergarten.
Kindergartners are new to school, and although they do love to talk, they don’t always know how to discuss what they’re learning, either with a teacher or with each other. A kindergarten teacher must work with students on counting, reading, and writing, but just as important is teaching them how to talk with—and listen to—others about what they’re learning.
There are many well-known strategies for guiding student discussions. Generally these strategies have been designed with older students in mind, and they require some adaptation when we want to use them with kindergartners.
Turn and Talk
The Turn and Talk strategy can be a quick and easy way to get students engaged with the material in your lesson. Even though it’s a simple strategy that doesn’t require a lot of modification for kindergarten, it’s important to model how it looks and sounds so students truly benefit from it.
I start by making sure the topic of the lesson or the theme of a read-aloud is accessible for all my students and preferably not new to them. Once I’ve taught the lesson or read the book, I pose a question with a wealth of possible responses. For example, I might read a book about kindness and then pose a question about ways the kids can show kindness.
I would first model how Turn and Talk works with another adult, if one is present, or with one of my students. There’s no need to go over it with the student first—you can explain as you go so that everyone hears the directions. It’s helpful to then have two students model the strategy for the class before everyone gives it a try. It’s important to debrief after these examples to make sure the kids understand that they take turns talking and should only be talking about the topic at hand.
At the beginning of the year, I make the subjects for Turn and Talk easy and keep the time frame short. Then, as the year progresses, I ratchet up to more complex questions and a longer time frame.
I’ve found this to be an excellent way to have students dive a little deeper into the material they’re working with, and it’s terrific practice for active listening, an important skill for students to master.
The Think-Pair-Share strategy is popular because it allows students to develop ideas without the whole class listening, which is ideal for introverts and students who take more time to process their thinking.
I’ve used Think-Pair-Share in higher grades, but needed to rethink it for use with my kindergartners. With an assist from one of my colleagues, I found a great way to structure this strategy. I give each pair of students two Popsicle sticks—one has clip art of a mouth, the other has an ear. The student who gets the mouth talks first, and the one who gets the ear listens. They switch sticks after a designated amount of time. The person with the mouth at the end should share something they heard their partner say.
As with Turn and Talk, Think-Pair-Share requires some modeling when it’s introduced, with either another adult or a student. It’s essential that children understand that when they are holding the ear, they are actively listening to their partner. Keeping the questions simple at the beginning can help students master this strategy more quickly.
Think-Pair-Share is a wonderful way to have kindergartners not just share their ideas but really listen to their classmates’ ideas. It takes my students a few tries to get this strategy right, but I hear a lot of great conversations once they do.
In upper grades, a Gallery Walk can be very detailed, and students can participate in many different ways. For kindergarten, a Gallery Walk can be meaningful, but it needs to be kept fairly simple. Math can be a good subject to start with.
I love having small groups collaborate to solve problems—I give them whiteboards or poster paper to show their work. In higher grades, students might walk around to look at how other groups approached the problem. With kindergartners, I’ve found it’s better to have one group at a time stand in front of the class to explain their work, with me offering help as needed.
Giving students a chance to stand up with their work to explain what they’ve done prepares them to explain themselves more independently later on in a higher-level Gallery Walk.
Teaching these strategies to kindergartners can take time, but the benefits of giving them opportunities to talk about their thinking make the time investment well worth it. It’s amazing to listen to the kids grow as they share what’s on their minds.