Bringing “Accountable Talk” into your classroom (and your home!)

By Laura Shanteler

school1One of the growing trends I have seen over the last couple of years in classrooms is an increase in student conversation. This is taking place across all subject areas, as students are asked to explain their answers, share their ideas, and work together to solve challenging problems. Students expressing themselves and their thought process is often a critical part of their continued understanding of a skill or topic, so Common Core is including Speaking and Listening standards that provides an easy to follow “road map” of sorts to help us help students develop these important skills.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to have a lively discussion that accomplishes what you are hoping (as both teacher and parent). A member of my 6th grade team last year taught us the basics of “Accountable Talk”, which is basically a set of guidelines that allow us to hold each other accountable for respecting one another during conversations and the appropriate ways to participate in a conversation. It helped us set guidelines and the tone for class discussions, partner conversations, or anything else that required students to share their ideas with another person. It takes a little bit to teach, but if you make it a point to follow the guidelines at every opportunity (I posted them on the wall so that we could all see them and remind each other to stick to them!)

Looking for ways to get the conversation going? Our resources are packed with questions that can spark a discussion, as well as sample student answers to help you keep your discussion going in the right direction!click here

Accountable talk is also great to use at home when talking to your kids. It helps them develop their own independent ideas and voice when talking about issues that allow them to form their own opinions. Challenge them to support their ideas, share yours (even if you don’t agree!), and enjoy watching your kids develop into strong thinkers. As we often forget, there isn’t always one set answer to a question and in life, we want our kids to be confident, well informed, well spoken advocates for their own ideas. This helps them learn how while they are still young.

Here’s the quick run down on “Accountable Talk”
You may also want to connect each sentence start with a gesture – I included the ones we used in bold in case you needed ideas!

These can be used at any point during a conversation – for this example, we’ll just say that a student shared an opinion about a character’s motivations for something they did in a story that the class is reading…

“I agree with _____________ because….”  Student will give a thumbs up.
“I would like to add on what _________ said with…..” Student will hold up pointer finger.
“I disagree with ____________ because…” Student will hold up a fist.
“I have a question about what _________ said…” Student will raise hand with open palm.
“I think what _________ is trying to say is….” Student will raise two fingers crossed (this was used to promote teamwork if a student was struggling to express an idea)
“Why do you think that… / What evidence do you have…”  Student will raise pinky finger.

These stems can be adapted in many different ways, based on the class you teach and what you are trying to accomplish.

Do you use something similar in your own classroom? If so, share it with us here so we can share your ideas as well! If you have any questions or suggestions about implementing Accountable Talk in your classroom or at home, let us know! You can email me directly at if you would prefer and we can talk more about how to make this happen for your students too!

Happy chatting! :)


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