Speaking and Listening structures are critical to teaching and learning!

Facilitating Academic Discourse: a Teaching Channel video

MSDE's CCR Conference presentation on Speaking & Listening: Speaking and Listening presentation

(Middle School: Speaking and Listening)


1. What is the purpose of speaking and listening?

2. How often do students engage in speaking and listening?

3. What level(s) of students are successful with speaking and listening structures?

4. What is the greatest difference between students now and students in the past (10 years) with respect to speaking and listening skill and development?

5. What is the greatest obstacle to including speaking and listening in a given course?

Common Core Standards for Speaking and Listening--a list of the English Language Arts standards for Speaking and Listening from Core Standards.org
Essential Question: What are the implications for teaching and learning at all grade levels as suggested by the grade 11-12 anchor standard 1 and its supporting standards?

What can students learn from academic Speaking and Listening?

Students are encouraged to:
  • Connect
  • Evaluate
  • Compare (Contrast)
  • Synthesize
  • Defend/Justify
  • Hypothesize
  • Inquire
  • Research
  • Question
  • Problem-Solve
  • AND????

National Communication Association "Guiding Principles for Speaking and Listening" Appendix B--this document describes behaviors of competent communicators.

Go TEAM!!--A community of partners who have a shared interest in success in any content, at any level or grade can be more successful when speaking and listening is embedded in daily instruction.

The TEAM Approach to Speaking and Listening can be applied to both classroom structure and activity-specific Speaking and Listening to promote a coherent and clear delivery of the content or skill to students:

The topic is:
  • worthy of discussion
  • narrow/specific
  • critical to the understanding of the objective
Student engagement is:
  • aligned with the topic and task
  • based upon student needs
  • designed to build trust and commitment to a team
Accountability is:
  • student- and teacher-monitored
  • embedded in the instructional practice
  • a measure of the mastery of skill or greater understanding of a topic
Management is:

  • in place to support positive interactions among students
  • time-specific
  • predictable and norm-referenced
  • outcome-driven
  • aligned with accountability measure(s)

Utilize this form (or a similar form) to assess the current reality of Speaking and Listening as it pertains to lessons and activities designed to promote student critical thinking on a topic.


1. What are the speaking and listening behaviors we expect from a typical __ grade student?
2. What does speaking and listening look like in your classroom?

How to build an Academic Speaking and Listening environment for students:

1. Arrange the room to support speaking and listening structures: quads--square of 4 desks, horseshoe, (Socratic) circle, 2 seats side-by-side or facing inward

2. Provide a Speaking and Listening-rich environment: bulletin board with quotes from students' sharing and discussion, posters displaying norms for speaking and norms for listening, recording devices and headphones to "speak and listen" using technology (which is task and student-appropriate), question prompts and discussion starters in the hands or in the line of sight of all students

3. Make yourself and the students comfortable with wait time (silence is golden) so that speakers and listeners have time to process rather than react without properly preparing a response (oral or written).

4. Teach students how to ANNOTATE text--label key details, questions, and make connections within their critical reading/responding to content material. Teachers may choose to explicitly teach students to conduct a close reading of source material and record THINKING NOTES to annotate complex text

5. Nurture students' INNER VOICE. Make students aware of their interior dialogue which allows them to independently problem-solve. This skill allows students to engage meaningfully with the text or a topic prior to discussing it.


6. Encourage and explicitly teach LISTENING CUES. How do you know students are listening/paying attention? Direct students to "track" their classmates (or whoever is conveying a message) by looking directly at them, even if it means turning around to face them.

7. Create a HIGHLIGHT REEL--Use a flip camera or otherwise video record students participating in academic discussion! Allow students to view themselves and articulate what makes this an example (or non-example) of academic discussion based on the established norms and procedures for speaking and listening.

Effective Questioning within a Speaking and Listening structure:

Depth of Knowledge & Critical Stance Questions

(Courtesy of Norman L. Webb, et. al)

Depth of Knowledge CHARTis a graphic aid to assist educators as they determine the level of rigor of an activity, in a question, etc...

Speaking and Listening Prompts

These question prompts are specific to a Socratic Seminar, but can be modified to meet the discussion format of your choice!

Socratic Seminar Guidelines, including scoring rubrics

Group NORMS:



Ready to share

Meaningful use of (everyone's) time


Sample "Norms" for Speaking and Listening:

1. This is a safe place to share (and self-monitoring is encouraged!)

2. Treat everyone with respect (This is a serious pursuit for a deeper understanding)

3. Maintain a professional manner and an appropriate tone.

4. Build trust by remaining sincere; be honest.

5. Seek to understand before attempting to change another's opinion.

6. Don't be a hog or a log (share the "speaking space" equitably).

7. Make notes which reflect new understanding

Thanks to teacher, A.D. for this list of norms! The list below was generated with student-input to reflect student-responsibilities and to meet the teacher's needs.
Sample Norms:

The Language of Advanced Placement Academic Conversation encourages students to be college and career ready!

Accountability: Rubric Considerations

Students who engage in meaningful discussion may be monitored using some or all of the following listening and speaking considerations.


Questions to Consider:

1. How can this strategy be adapted for use in the course(s) I teach?

2. Who will benefit from this approach?

3. Why is this approach beneficial?

4. For what purpose will I utilize this structure or support?

The following are a list of Speaking and Listening activities:

1. Anchor Paper Scoring Activity--in groups, students independently read and annotate one sample student response to a content-specific writing prompt. After a time, students use a rubric or other scoring tool to work as a team to negotiate the "score" the response should have received. Students earn points for this activity based on the accuracy of their group's decision and the manner in which individuals defend claims to achieve consensus among the group.

2. Outline Activity--students are assigned a sub-topic related to a general topic in the course. Small groups of students are asked to discuss main ideas and key details associated with their sub-topic. They are asked to create an outline given a limited number of slips of paper. There are two colors, one color for main ideas and the other color for key details. The team of students must negotiate which main ideas and which key details to write on their limited number of paper slips. The classes' notes are then displayed as a large-scale outline on the classroom wall or in the hallway. This display can be used for a study guide or unit review as well.

3. What did s/he say?--This approach includes the teacher asking a student to share what his or her PARTNER's thoughts and ideas were on a topic. The focus, therefore, is on listening. The teacher may also prompt a student to share what new understanding they developed because of what their partner shared with them.

4. Initial It!--Students are accountable to a partner during sharing. They initial the paper of the person whose work they checked or with whom they shared on the assigned topic. This approach also allows students to get up and move out of their seat as well as approach a classmate with whom they do not normally share in class.

5. Fact Attack--Students sit in pairs or in groups of three (one student being a moderator for each rotation) and rapidly share one fact or related detail at a time regarding a particular topic. The moderator (if there is a third group member) records the content of the sharing (or perhaps marks a checklist), checks for accuracy of facts and that no fact is repeated and may prompt the pair in a specific direction if the pace of fact sharing slows down.

6. Speak Out--In this rapid-response version of an "Exit Ticket," the class is a team. The teacher or another student poses a question or asks for an oral response to a prompt directly related to the day's teaching and learning. The group must respond orally in the final two minutes of class. There is respectful turn-taking, but no hand-raising for this rapid-response sharing. Once the instructor or facilitator feels the response has been adequately addressed within the class/team insights, the group is free to "exit".

7. Pay Up!--Students (and the instructor) track the balance of sharing within a class or group conversation using pennies or another token. The instructor gives each student 3-5 pennies which they must judiciously "spend" during the discussion. This activity allows for accountability as well as encourages balance of participation in a conversation, debate or discussion.

8. 5 Whys--This prompt allows a student or the instructor to drill down into a topic beyond the surface level sharing which is sometimes indicative of a less-than critical reading or understanding. Students are prompted (by a partner) to answer the question "Why?" 5 times to fully describe, evaluate, justify, etc... their claim.

9. Topic Cards--On the wall or on a bulletin board, place several index-card sized "Topic Cards" which contain a main idea or detail related to the topic at hand. Students choose from the cards one-at-a time and prepare a 1-or-2 minute speech to deliver to the class on the topic (either immediately or over time). This approach has a two-fold purpose. First, the instructor immediately knows with which topics the class (as a whole) is LEAST comfortable (it is chosen last or not at all) and second, the students know which ideas are CRITICAL to understanding the topic because they are each posted around the room.

10. Inventories--as a homework assignment or to fill the final minutes of class, ask students to develop an inventory of an assigned or self-selected topic (one or more topics). An INVENTORY is an extensive, exhaustive list of 50+ related formulas, numbers, ideas, people, places, dates, etc...The inventory is then used as a guide for students to discuss the topic at hand, to support their claim, to write a response to a prompt, etc...and can be a useful review tool before an assessment or exam, too. Students must prepare for speaking and listening by writing down related ideas and the inventory is one way to do so.

11. 30 Second Check-in--This approach can be used frequently throughout daily instruction to support a culture of sharing within a speaking and listening framework. Students check-in with a partner or a team for 30-seconds periodically (and when prompted by the teacher) to check for understanding/misunderstanding, share thoughts and ideas, or ask questions.

12. Fishbowl--See how one teacher approaches the Fishbowl at the Teaching Channel link: THE FISHBOWL This approach includes a "hot seat" that students can cycle into and out of to engage in the discussion. Students sit in two concentric circles. The outer circle observes and listens while the inner circle engages in on-topic discussion. Question prompts may be included to facilitate transitions. Members of the discussion should provide questions which can be placed in an actual fishbowl from which students may draw one at a time.

13. Building Consensus--The teacher guides students to negotiate a class response to a topic, point-by-point. Initially, several "views" may be present among individual student team members regarding a topic. Each view is shared and validated or invalidated based on key criteria the students (or instructor) develop. Each student has an opportunity to support (and gain peer support) for a view. Throughout, short "consensus polls" are taken. The recorder keeps track of the number of students "for," "against," "in support of," etc... until only two viable "options" from which to choose remain. At this point, the two groups discuss among themselves salient points and prepare to share 1 or 2 minutes with the entire group. Consensus occurs when the most credible, balanced argument is adopted--it is the remaining option students can reasonably live with and cannot live without.


Additional Print Resource:

The AP Teacher's Resource Book: Strategies for Successful AP Courses (Mindsteps) by Robyn R. Jackson and Dianne Hamilton, Chapter 6

  • Consensus, page 65

  • "Peer Review Rotation," page 97

  • "Speed Meeting," page 119


Engaging Reluctant Speakers: Allow students to write down a response before sharing orally or try one of these FREE online options: