Chalk Talk…A Conversation on Paper

I love going on PD days…lots of new inspiration, thoughts to ponder and just a chance to grow and learn with others…but I especially loved my PD this last week with Ron Ritchhart about Creating a Culture of Thinking.  My colleagues laughed at the sheer length of my notes, but there was loads of good stuff to process/ponder later that I knew I might forget.  One of my favourite things I have taken away from that day was the Chalk Talk.  We were given the question, “What do we want the children we teach to be like as adults?” and in a perfectly silent room had some amazing conversations….on paper.  Everyone had a pen to make their voice heard and connect with the thoughts of others.  I have had students all write down thoughts at the same time on paper, but the way this was set up went beyond everyone having a voice to truly connecting, engaging, questioning and conversing with others.


Needless to say, the next day back at school I was curious and decided to try it out.  I teach the higher level maths group and we were about to begin our unit on time.  I put a large piece of paper and texters at each group and told the students that their job was to answer the questions, “What do you know about time?  How do we use time?”  They couldn’t talk verbally with one another, but had to use their pen to be their voice.  They needed to move around the table when not writing (this encourages them to read the thoughts of others plus keeps them more engaged) and could put their own thoughts down and make connections (with lines or ticks) to the thoughts of others.  But it had to be silent.  One hand instantly went up in the middle of explaining – “But what if we have a question about what they wrote – can we write questions?”  I was going to get to that, but I love that he got there before I did.

So the first part began with students writing away.  One group had a particularly hard time not speaking and I had to give several reminders to use the pen as their voice and point out/compliment groups who were doing particularly well at this – they got better with practice.  After about five minutes, I had the groups rotate to another group’s paper – here they were to read the different thoughts of others as they walked around that table and continue the conversation – add your own thoughts, questions, connections, etc.  We continued this until they had been to all four groups.

At the end they looked at their own conversations from their original paper and we talked about what they noticed from their conversations about time.  I literally had to force the pens out of their hands so we had time to discuss the conversations, which tells me that they were definitely engaged in their discussions!

Here were some of their thoughts:

“We have a lot of questions about where time came from like when it started and who thought of things….” Another student chimed in..“That’s the history – we want to know about the history of time!”

“I noticed that no one mentioned watches…I wonder why we didn’t talk about those anywhere.”

“Some people thought my thought about Ussein Bolt running didn’t have to do with time, but I think it does.  This is a way we use time to see how fast people can be.”

“I think we are a lot more worried about time now than people used to be a long time ago….they didn’t even used to have clocks.”

“Some of us had questions that other people knew the answer to…” (which led to the idea that I might not be the only person to teach them something about time in this unit)

From looking at it, I can know after one lesson that:

–          They see it as a way we organise our lives (lots of those thoughts on all papers)

–          My students are super curious about the history of time and how it has developed (which was not something I planned on originally covering at all, but something that would be great to spend some time inquiring into)  They want to know about who thought of putting 60 seconds to a minute and why that was chosen, for example.

–          They have different thoughts about why we use analogue and digital, but seem to value the analogue time and prefer that to the digital (which I would have never guessed)

–          They only have a few ideas about how we use time (could extend this area) and were curious about how our use of time has developed/changed – a few discovered through their conversations that we didn’t always have clocks and used to use the sun

–          A few of them are familiar with the 24 hour clock and that time can be written both ways digitally

–          They didn’t mention timetables at all in their conversations, so they probably don’t have a lot of experience with them (which is something we plan to look at a bit) – they didn’t have a lot of uses for time beyond cooking and getting to a place on time…


A one-session Chalk Talk has told me (and the students) so much about their prior knowledge and interests and managed to take our time unit in a different direction than what I had originally intended…which tells me it was successful because it helped them to engage in our new unit and discuss important ideas and is helping me to let them drive a bit more of their own learning (and make Maths more inquiry based which is something I need to develop further).  In the end, we’ve hung up our Chalk Talk conversations on the wall for them to continue to look at – I look forward to looking at them at the end of our unit to see how our thinking has developed!

Categories: Numeracy, Thinking | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Chalk Talk…A Conversation on Paper

  1. Yes love this as it means everyone has a voice and thoughtfully responds. Draws out thinking in a visible way.

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