Strategy Guide

Using Partner Talk to Strengthen Student Collaboration and Understanding

K - 8
Strategy Guide Series
Differentiating Instruction

About this Strategy Guide

In this strategy guide, you'll learn about Partner Talk—a way to provide students with another learning opportunity to make learning their own through collaboration and discussion.  Partner Talk can be used for assessing classwork, making connections to prior knowledge, discussing vocabulary, or simplifying concepts.


Research Basis

One of the main goals of the English Language Arts Common Core Standards is to build natural collaboration and discussion strategies within students, helping to prepare them for higher levels of education and collaboration in the workforce. In today’s classrooms, students are using complex texts and are being asked to use a variety of strategies and provide evidence-based responses. Partner Talk is a best practice that gives students an active role in their learning and scaffold the experience for students.


Strategy in Practice

For Partner Talk to be effective in the classroom, there are five steps that must be executed by the teacher:

  1. Plan
  2. Pose
  3. Wait
  4. Monitor & Feedback
  5. Write



Plan specific times during the lesson when Partner Talk will be used to engage students and increase understanding. Write the questions that you will have studentsl discuss ahead of time and ensure that they promote higher order thinking, and place the questions on sticky notes in the text to indicate when/where they should be asked.  In order to properly scaffold the material, the questions should build on one another.



Before posing the questions to students, make sure that you have strategically paired up students so that they can have thoughtful conversations.  In general, typical students should be paired with students who are a bit above-average thinkers, and higher students should be paired with other students who are capable of higher-level thinking.  ELL students should be paired with a student with grade-level/average vocabulary.

Have students sit in a position that enables them to see eye-to-eye, be it in chairs, or on the floor.  Additionally, be sure to give an indicator as to which partner should start the discussion by talking first, or allow the students to choose ahead of time.



Give students an adequate amount of time to process the question that has been asked (generally 10-15 seconds).  Questions that require higher order thinking skills are sometimes complex and require adequate wait time.  While students are processing the question, along with their answers, be sure to repeat the question (in a different way, if possible) and provide appropriate supporting questions and scaffolds.


Monitor & Feedback

Remind students to take turns talking and listen to one another’s thoughts.  Listen to students’ responses as you make your way around the classroom to check for understanding.  As you listen to students talking to their partners, provide feedback and clarify misunderstandings that students may have (by asking simplifying questions, as appropriate).  At the end of the students’ discussion time, choose a few students who seem to have mastered the concept and have made good connections, and ask them to share their thoughts and responses with the entire class.



After students have finished talking with their partners, they can reflect on their thoughts and understanding by writing about their discussions and what they learned.  Teachers can use this writing as a formative assessment to gauge which students have mastered the concept and built adequate connections.


Ask yourself how you feel that the process went, and gauge students' understanding.  Repeat steps and reteach as necessary.

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