Zwiers and Crawford: Chapter 3 on Lesson Activities for Developing Core Conversation Skills

Quote from 5th Grade Language Arts Student: “The book was only so-so, but our conversations about it were awesome.”

As a reminder from the last post: the five core conversational skills were:

Elaborate and clarify

Support ideas with examples

Build on and/or challenge a partner’s idea


Synthesize conversation points

The introduction to this chapter cautions that these are not separate skills taught in isolation.  Rather they are to be integrated into the content being taught, as well as being integrated with the other skills.

As noted earlier, this text offers lots of good suggestions for HOW to teach these skills.  First an example of a technique for Synthesizing Conversation Points.

Parking/Promoting/Pruning Ideas.  Students start by “writing down ideas (or parking them) for later use.  Then they Promote ideas they may be reluctant to share after you give examples of ideas that originally seen as “crazy” – airplanes, cell phones, moon shots…  And then student “prune” the ideas—both their own and others—by being conscious of which ideas further the conversation and which ideas do not. (p. 55)

The authors also suggest mini lessons on conversations that allow to students to practice:

Analyzing good conversations via a fishbowl technique.

Student modeling of good conversational skills, perhaps using posters or checklists.

Scaffolding by modeling think-alouds, conversations with students and analysis of written conversations.




Chapter 2 Getting Started with Academic Conversations from Zwiers and Crawford, Academic Conversations, 2011

This chapter begins as do the other chapters with quotes from learners or teachers:

Comment from a 6th grader:  “It was weird.  When we finished talking, we had a totally new idea.” (p. 27)

In a sense, Chapter 2 is the heart of this book.  It covers two central ideas: Conversation Norms and Core Skills for Academic Conversations.

Shared Conversation Norms.  I can’t image a more critical skill (standard) than learning how to use conversation to learn, to create ideas, to negotiate, perhaps especially as we elect new leadership in our country.  Here verbatim (from pages 30-31) are the authors’ list 7 norms:

*listen to each other

*share our own ideas and explain them

*respect one another’s ideas, even if they are different

*respectfully disagree and try to see the other view

*let others finish explaining their ides without interrupting

*try to come to some agreement in the end

*take turns and share air time

The five core skills of conversation which are explained in more detail in Chapter 3 are:

Elaborate and clarify

Support ideas with examples

Build on and/or challenge a partner’s idea


Synthesize conversation points

Real strengths of this text are the number of examples the authors provide and the extent to which it is possible to generalize these ideas to written language and across content areas.