5 Ways to Make Partner Talk Effective and Productive

Imagine this. You are teaching a mini lesson. You pose a question to your class and say, "Turn and talk to your neighbor!"

What usually happens?

3 kids just sit there. 3 kids ask every other kid in the room to be their partners, but never actually end up with a partner. Some kids pair up and just stare at each other. Maybe a third of the class is actually doing what you asked them to do..?

How can we make this time more effective and productive for our students?
Hippo Hooray for Second Grade
Some call it Pair/Share, some call it Turn 'n Talk, but it's all the same: Partner talk is a proven strategy to promote oral language development, increase student engagement, and deepen their understanding of the content. Instead of students raising their hands and only one or two get the chance to share with the whole class (while everyone else is tuning them out...), now everyone gets a chance to talk. Everyone gets the chance to be heard. And when students are conversing about academic topics, learning is happening!

Here are a few tips to make partner talk successful in your classroom:

1. Assign Partners

I never ever EVER allow my students to choose a partner in the moment. By choosing my students' partners for them, I am assured they are working with someone appropriate for them. I'm also eliminating the struggle of students not participating during partner talk time.

2. Keep Partnerships Long-Term

I keep my partnerships together for at least a semester, and I'm thinking about keeping my current partners together for even longer. Why? By having the same partners, students form relationships and trust between each other. It's comfortable and familiar for them. It makes the discussions less awkward, and they become more deep and meaningful.

3. Partners Sit by Each Other 

I teach almost all of my lessons at the carpet, so when I ask my students to join me up front, they know they are supposed to sit next to their partner. That way, when I ask them to turn and talk, their partner is right there and they can get started right away!

4. Give Each Partner a Name

Peanut Butter & Jelly. Salt & Pepper. Partner A & Partner B (Boring? Yes. But functional). Make sure your students know who's who. That way when you tell your students to turn and talk, you will also say, "Peanut Butter Partner goes first." and there's no arguing about who has to (or gets to) go first.

5. Post Your Partnerships

You always have one or two students who "forget" who their partners are, so by having a list of partnerships posted, you can eliminate time wasted trying to find out who their partner is. It is also incredibly helpful if you have a substitute in your classroom.
I hang this on a bulletin board close to my carpet area so kids can check if they need to.

How Do I Assign Partners?

In general, I partner students up with children of similar abilities. That way, they can have discussions and conversations about topics at their level, rather than one person carrying the conversation. I assign each student a reading partner, a writing partner, and a math partner. In math we also have clock partners with heterogeneous pairings, but we'll save that info for another post. Oh and by the way, don't forget that Common Core is big on peer editing in writing. Those writing partners come in very handy for that standard! I have a peer editing checklist freebie HERE if you're interested :)

What if you have an odd number of students? I make a group of 3. But I am purposeful when making this group. Usually I will put an ELL, speech student, or a special ed student in the group of 3 so they have two other children to look to for, and there is less pressure for them to talk.

What is the Teacher Doing While the Students are Talking?

When students are talking, I'm popping around from group to group, listening in. At the halfway point, I'll call out, "Switch!" to allow the other partner to talk, if needed. After a minute or two of partner talking, I'll stop the partner talking, and I will share out what the students said. "Oh my gosh! Sarah shared something really smart. She said _______."

Sometimes when partners are talking, they miss the answer or point and don't say what I want them to say. In those instances, I just make it up when I share out :) I'll say, "Someone in the back, I don't remember who it was, said ________." and in the blank, I'll say what I was hoping to hear from the conversations.

I never allow my students to repeat what they said to their partner to the whole class. I always do the final share after the partner talk is over. Why not? Because then we're back to one student talking and the rest of the students being disengaged. Plus, we all know what happens when you let a student share with the whole class when you're trying to wrap up your lesson....

Do you use partner talk in your classroom? Tell me all about it in the comments below!

For more classroom ideas, check out my Pinterest Board:

1 comment

  1. Your post on pairing students has really gotten me to rethink how I match up my students. I think I'm going to try having different partners for different subjects too--it really makes sense. Also, I am following your Pinterest board now; you have some great things pinned. Actually, I just spent an hour exploring links from the board! Enjoy the rest of your winter break.


Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I *love* reading comments!! Make sure you are a no reply blogger or leave your email address so we can stay in touch!

Back to Top