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March 3, 2021

Five Strategies for Hitting the Speaking and Listening Standards

I’m lucky to work in a school district that’s chosen curriculum aligned to Common Core Standards for both math and literacy. But when I really started to reflect on whether or not I was helping students meet those standards, the Speaking and Listening Standards were the ones that stood out the most. I asked myself, how am I helping students prepare for the discussions we’re having? How am I helping students build their capacity to ask questions or explain their thinking?

I decided to become intentional, planning opportunities for students to build their speaking and listening skills, and found that our conversations were richer because of it. Below are a couple of helpful tips and strategy videos that I used to help my students meet those valuable speaking and listening standards.

Speaking & Listening, Grades 3/4/5.1.ACome to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.


One simple way to help students prepare for a discussion is to use Post-it notes. They’re a great tool to help students hold on to their thinking, and can serve as a reminder for when it’s time to share. It’s important to be transparent about the purpose of using Post-its. Let students know up front that their participation in an upcoming class discussion is an expectation and that in order to help them with that, they can use sticky notes to prepare for what they might say. I let my students know that they won’t be reading the Post-it notes to the class, but will be using them to help remember what they might want to share.

See Post-its in action with my students.

More tips for using Post-it notes:

Structure and Choice: Find a balance between structure and choice, and set an objective for two of the Post-its. For example, if during the week we were focusing on visualizing, I would ask my students to mark two places in their reading where the text made them visualize the action that was taking place (structure). I let students use the third Post-it (and more if they wanted) to make a note about whatever stood out to them (choice). Making a list of possible options for the structure portion (a connection, a wondering, a question, a surprising moment, something that was confusing, etc.) can help students who need more direction or scaffolding.

Sketch it out! One way that I make the Post-it tool accessible for a wide range of learners is to make drawing an option. I allow students to write notes or make a quick sketch on their Post-its. This especially helps my ELL students to participate more fully, even if they don’t have all the language they need to explain their thinking in words.

Think Marks: Think marks can help students identify important parts, questions, areas of confusion, and more. Create an anchor chart of think marks (symbols that represent different talking points). Have students draw a think mark on a sticky and place it on the text where the reflection came up. This can be an especially powerful tool for preparing for conversations, since students won’t be tempted to over-explain or elaborate on the small area of the sticky. The goal of this method is to make a simple mark that can be used to trigger a discussion later.

See a variation of this strategy in action.

Speaking & Listening Grades 3/4/5.1.BFollow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., gaining the floor in respectful ways, listening to others with care, speaking one at a time about the topics and texts under discussion).

Hand Signals:

Using hand signals can be a great way to help students communicate with each other in a whole group discussion. In my class, I just used two simple hand signals: two fingers to indicate that the student wanted to add on, and thumbs up to indicate that he/she had something new to say (topic change). Unlike simple hand raising, the hand signals encourage students to be more active listeners, since they have to listen to what the speaker is saying in order to know if their own comment is an add-on or a new thought.

See hand signals in action.

In the video above, I facilitated the conversation. Eventually though, I let my students take over the facilitation role. The way we did it was simple. One student would start the conversation and the others would show their hand signals. Then, the speaker would choose someone who had something to add on. Each time someone spoke, they chose the next speaker. We decided as a class to stick with the same topic (add-ons) first, before changing gears with a thumbs up request. With these elements of structure, my class was able to meet this standard independently and with much success!

Check out these hand signals used by teachers and students in the classroom.


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