Monday, April 20, 2015

Grand Conversations Following a Read Aloud

Tuesdays are Slice of Life day hosted by the writing community at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome to join in!

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the read aloud work that our Staff Developer, Christine Holley, did for some of our first and second-grade teachers. I wrote in that post that I would share more about the "Grand Conversations" that followed a read aloud in a later post, and here it is. 

After reading her book, and it could be any picture book, or even a chapter book for older students, Christine had the first-grade students sit in a circle. Because they did not have much practice with having a full-class conversation about a book, at first she encouraged them to raise hands, but after a few minutes, as they got going, she made a BIG deal out of telling them that they could try not raising hands. "Just talk to each other," she said. "Try it out."

When several students were talking at the same time (yes, that happened...), she stopped the class. "What are we going to do if four people want to talk at the same time?" she asked. One of the students suggested that they decide who would talk first, and then the others would automatically get to go next. The other students nodded in agreement. 

While the initial conversation was mostly around retells, Christine prodded the students with questions that required some deeper reflection. More importantly, she taught students some prodding lines that they could use to keep the conversation going, such as:

  • Why do you think that?
  • Can you say more about that?
  • What do you think?
Within five minutes, the students were engaged in a conversation and Christine sat back from the circle as they analyzed why Leonardo did not want to be a monster any more in Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems. 

I loved that Christine invited students to participate, but did not pressure them. At one point, she interrupted the conversation and said, "If you haven't spoken, then you can go ahead and start us off," after she gave the class an open-ended question about the book. This question made many students reflect, thinking in a seven year-old way about whether they were talking too much or too little. When she ended the whole class conversation, she finished with, "If you didn't speak in today's conversation, that's okay because there will be lots of other chances to do it."

I really do hope that there will be lots more chances for students to engage in this speaking and listening work! It was so powerful to watch them get the hang of participating in a meaningful conversation.

Happy reading, speaking and listening! (As well as writing!)


  1. Grand Conversations are my favorite!! I led so many 2 years ago as a Reading Specialist. Now I'm the 5th grade writing teacher and my colleague gets to do these as the 5th grade reading teacher. Maybe I can sneak one in this year. I love the ideas said by kids around a book when they are given to the time to enjoy a great story, think and talk.

  2. Wow...they never cease to amaze us, if we believe in them. I have to find out more!!! xo

  3. I love grand conversations and how you highlighted the moves Christine made. What a great thing to witness! Such gentle inviting prompts to participate like: "Just talk to each other," she said. "Try it out." make even those timid kiddos comfortable.

  4. I love seeing the primary students talk about books, and this sounds spectacular, Melanie. I like the different words given to help them 'think'. Great lesson.

  5. What great social skills this teaches too! We need to allow kids to have more conversations, but too often teachers don't think they have time for this. This is learning in action. Thanks Melanie!

  6. Melanie, this reminds me so much of the Open Forum technique we learned from Ellin Keene. We use it often in our district, and it never ceases to amaze me how well young children can handle themselves in a group conversation like this. If you give them some scaffolds, they rise to the occasion every time!

  7. I always love hearing the moves "pros" make - and how just the right questions, posed at the right time, can elicit deep conversations. Thanks for sharing, Melanie!

  8. Wouldn't it be nice if we could have real, authentic conversations about reading in the classroom? This method seems well planned out at the same time organic and natural. I hope more teachers can try to have meaningful conversations about reading.

  9. What a terrific experience for these kids. When given the opportunity, kids come up with some amazing insights. Thank you for sharing how Christine set the kids up for a successful conversation!