Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

01.13.234 Ways of Looking at a Turn and Talk: How Kris Shukla Uses and Adapts the Technique In His Teaching

Our colleague Ben Rogers at Paradigm Trust, which runs seven school in London and Ipswich, England sent us some video recently of a really well design lesson by Kris Shukla. In the course of a lesson on scientific writing, Kris used four Turn & Talks.  Each one was a little different and each one was carefully crafted to meet the demands of a given moment in his class. Comparing and contrasting what Kris did with all four is a great way to study both the key ideas of the technique and some of the important ways it can be adapted. In this blog post you’ll be able to watch each of Kris’ Turn and Talks and read what different members of the TLAC team noticed about them.

Turn and Talk #1 (Colleen Driggs and Sadie McCleary):


The objective of Kris’s lesson is for students to understand features of a scientific text so they can use them in their own writing. So Kris starts by giving  students an opportunity to discuss the features of scientific writing they observed in a text they’d read the previous day. “You’re going to have a 40 second talk with your partner about what scientific writing should be. Use this sentence starter: ‘Scientific writing is…’” he says, and off they go.

It’s a well executed Turn and Talk–the room bursts to life–and clearly a system that’s been taught and practiced in Kris’s class. But activity is not enough. What matters, Héctor Ruiz Martín, Director at the International Science Teaching Foundation, recently told our team is that  students learn what they think actively about. From a cognitive psychology stand active thinking is what should define “Active Learning” and Ruiz Martín advises that teachers should design tasks carefully to cause students to think about what we want them to remember or learn.

In this case, the sentence starter Kris provides focuses his students so they get right to work thinking in the most productive ways. And since he’s written in on a piece of chart paper he can then track and emphasize the key ideas in their responses so students think about them even more.

Useful takeaways: Start Turn and Talks with a sentence starter or intro phrase to focus discussions; chart student responses after.

Turn and Talk #2 (Darryl Williams):


In this second Turn and Talk sequence, I was struck by the subtle, but important ways students are experiencing signals of connection and belonging in Kris’s classroom. When Kris calls on Isabella after the Turn and Talk notice how her peers all turn, lean in, and lend her their eyes. The use of “we” language here, “We’re going to come to you…” is a reminder that learning in this classroom is a shared endeavor. It’s a learning community. It’s also a cue to Isabella’s peers that they have a responsibility to help her feel part of the community by show interest and respect. In this moment, students want Isabella to know her ideas are important, that she should feel safe to share them, and that she’s a valued member of the community.

Kris further amplifies these signals when he leans in to listen more intently as Isabella shares, subtly nodding and lifting his brow to acknowledge her response. “Good…Thank you, Isabella!”  He wants Isabella to feel seen and valued. He’s affirming and encouraging, making it likely that Isabella and her peers will continue to feel comfortable sharing ideas and insights with their peers. This is how belonging is built, by  students frequently experiencing small, and often subtle, gestures that help them feel seen and important members of a larger community. 

Notice two small similarities to the first Turn and Talk. 1) Kris uses a nonverbal gesture to students to cue the Turn and Talk. It’s a fast and efficient way to start the activity and it ensures that the last thing students hear before they start talking is the question they are intended to discuss (rather than directions). 2) Kris again uses a sentence starter here to focus student thinking. This one is verbal instead of written, a useful variation, but Kris begins: “An introduction should include…”

Useful takeaways: Make sure to use your own body language  & facial expressions to show students you value their ideas; ask students to look at each other when they share their ideas so those ideas feel important; consider a nonverbal cue to start Turn and Talk.

Turn and Talk #3 (Dillon Fisher):


Kris is so thoughtful in how he thinks about his pacing throughout the Turn & Talk. Kris takes his time in launching the Turn and Talk. He slows down his pacing to ensure students hear the directions and understand the task: where to focus, what specific question to talk about. His classroom culture feels both calm and clear. He balances that intentional launch with much faster pacing during the Turn and Talk. In this case it’s a simple question and he gives students just 5 seconds to discuss (vs 40 seconds and 30 seconds respectively for the previous Turn and Talks). The variation in length keeps things interesting and the energy high. Kris ensures the partner conversation is buzzing– and that he brings students back with enough thinking left over to share full-group.

It also seems quite likely that this is an unplanned Turn and Talk–that Kris uses it to build engagement among students. When he initially asks the question about parentheses he notices that only three hands go up. Kris instinctively sends students into a short and tidy Turn & Talk – and in just a few seconds he is able to boost Ratio and confirm that all students understand the purpose of parenthesis in scientific writing.

Finally, Kris is an active listener while his students Turn & Talk – and he uses what he hears to make informed decisions that support both understanding and pacing. In this case, Kris hears almost 100% of his students share the correct purpose of the parenthesis. He doesn’t need to take extra time with an additional Cold Call here, so he stamps the learning efficiently and clearly. “I heard it collectively from everybody, they help us to add more information.” The data here tells him that further discussion isn’t necessary.

Useful takeaways: Be attentive pacing and variations in pacing, especially how long you allocate to the Turn and Talk and to the subsequent discussion. Listen carefully to students during Turn and Talk.

Turn and Talk #4 (Beth Verrilli):


  • We LOVE the idea of using a Turn and Talk to reinforce fluency and prosody (reading with appropriate rhythm, stress, and tone) in reading via a partner read! There’s an immense amount of data on the importance of reading fluency and 1) it’s often overlooked 2) it can be especially challenging with scientific writing.
  • To practice fluency & prosody, students need multiple at-bats reading aloud, and Kris’s Turn and Talk ensures the two rounds of participation each. This is also where Kris’s attention to belonging pays off—in a classroom where Turn and Talk is the norm, students will trust each other and feel comfortable practicing with each other. Kris has created an environment of psychological safety for his students.
  • Because this Turn and Talk is more complex—each student will read two different times—Kris stream lines the directions and identifies which partner should go first.  
  • To help support prosody development Kris highlights “two pieces of punctuation to really think about where you’re pausing.” He also  projects the passages on the whiteboard and hands them out in hard copy. His directions on the whiteboard  also will help keep keep students on track during a complex task, even if Kris is listening to another group.

Useful takeaways: Use Turn and Talks for partner reading to build fluency and prosody.  For complex tasks provide more structure (i.e question on the board; identify the student who will go first).


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