06: Scaffolding Academic Talk





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  • Form Focused & Meaning Focused Talk: Extend academic conversations by asking questions that recap and probe student meaning, not correct their language forms
  • Factors that Facilitate Second Language Learning:
    • Comprehensible Input: Key inputs include
      • Use mother tongue
      • Written / oral text
      • Pictures and diagrams
      • Graphic outlines
      • Prior learning and experiences
      • Demos
      • Gesturing and miming
      • Multimedia
      • Symbols
      • Multiple forms of expression
    • Comprehensible output: One useful form is a problem-solving dialogue aimed at learning concepts and related language simultaneously
    • Stretched or pushed language: Learner is pushed by context to talk outside comfort zone.
    • Negotiation of meaning: Conversations negotiate meanings by clarifying and questioning meanings of words.
    • Models of appropriate language: Use of think-alouds and sample products to model spoken and written academic language
    • Well-developed mother tongue: Bilingual opportunities allow learners to leverage full range of linguistic abilities
  • Making Teacher-Student Talk a Context for Language Learning:  Five ways to make teacher-student talk more supportive:
    1. Extend teacher-student exchanges
    2. Extend time for students to think
    3. Appropriate and recast language
    4. Encourage literate talk
    5. Make reasoning explicit
  • Traditional Classroom Talk (IRF): Traditional teacher-student exchanges has the IRF format: Inquire, Student Response, Teacher Feedback.  This format can lead to short teacher-student exchanges.
  • Extending Traditional Classroom Talk:  Strategies include:
    • Give clues
    • Give several opportunities to respond
    • Give extending thinking time
    • Pair share between pairs of students allows student to process before teacher asks students questions
    • Use spoken interactions to model written reflections
    • Ask open-ended questions
    • Appropriate and repeat student talk using academic language
    • Encourage students to use more formal language
    • Ask students to reason aloud; ask probing questions to make reasoning steps more explicit
    • Ask question sequences that model problem solving processes
    • Respond to student meanings; refrain from correcting spoken language forms
    • Treat students as conversational partners
    • Give ALL students opportunities to speak
    • Let students practice speaking in small groups before calling on them in whole group conversations


Extending academic conversations is a craft that can be learned and used to great effect.  Extended academic conversations can teach students academic vocabulary and reasoning and problem solving processes.  Being aware of comprehensible inputs and outputs can help one plan for academic conversations that are productive for ALL learners.  Being aware of the short IRF exchange pattern is a first step to breaking and extending that conversation pattern.


Preparation Steps
  • Research key language, concepts, and practices
  • Script probing questions that highlight steps in key reasoning and problem solving processes
  • Script open ended questions that can start extended academic conversations
  • Research and gather multiple types of comprehensive inputs to teach key concepts and terms
  • Research strategies for including ALL students in classroom conversations
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement strategies that include ALL students in classroom conversations
  • Implement strategies that extend classroom conversations – See above
  • Be aware of short IRF exchanges as they occur and make efforts to extend these exchanges
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Use technology tools such as Wiki Talki to record academic talk and provide peer feedback.  These tools can increase frequency of feedback on academic talk.
  • Develop, teach, and use routines that students repetitively use to speak and write about reasoning and problem solving
  • Use sentence stem visuals repetitively to scaffold student think aloud’s, reflections, and other academic conversations

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