SOS: Talking Sticks

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Talking Sticks

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SOS Big IdeaIn addition to talking, being an effective communicator involves active listening. The Common Core State Standards and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills both highlight the importance of developing communication skills in preparation for college and career readiness. These skills are not always easy to acquire. Being a good listener is tough, particularly when some members of the group are passionate, knowledgeable, or opinionated.

There are stories of indigenous peoples from around the world using talking sticks to ensure equity of voice. A talking stick provides everyone in the group with a visual signal as to who has the floor, and helps everyone to share equally in the discussion. Using a talking stick in the classroom can help students learn to self-monitor their participation in group discussions, leading to more purposeful contributions and better listening.

SOS StepsMaterials: a talking stick for each small group (an actual stick, paint stick, popsicle stick, etc.), media resource (video or audio), question stems or specific questions to be answered

1.Students watch or listen to a media resource. If needed, pause for note-taking or replay media to ensure comprehension.

2.Have groups of 5-7 students sit in a circle. Provide each group with a talking stick.

3.Review the guidelines for using the talking stick:

  • the person with the stick is allowed 1 minute of uninterrupted talking
  • all other group members listen to the person talking

4.Display the first question where everyone can see it. You can also provide each group a set of cards with the printed questions.

5.Each person in the group has 1 minute to share his or her answers and ideas related to the question. The stick is then passed to the next person in the circle.

6.Once all group members have had the chance to speak, the whole group has 1 minute to discuss/respond to what they have heard.

7.Repeat the process for each question.

8.Finish with a whole group share out of big ideas and understandings.

SOS Sum It UpUsing talking sticks provides students with a tool to help them self-monitor who is talking during a discussion. One way to be prepared for using this strategy at any time would be to have some question stem cards prepared ahead of time. Some sample question stems that would work well with this strategy include:

  • “I think/believe that…”
  • “In my opinion…”
  • “As I read/listened/watched, I was thinking …”
  • “This makes sense to me because …”
  • “This doesn’t make sense to me because…”
  • “One question I have about this topic is …”
  • “I wonder…”

SOS More Ideas

  • Once students are experienced with using just 1 talking stick you could adapt the strategy by providing each group of students with a pile of sticks (start with 2 or 3 sticks per group member.) Rather than passing the talking sticks around the circle, have students take a stick from the pile each time they share a comment or idea. When finished sharing, the student would keep that stick in front of them. The goal would be to end the discussion with each person having the same number of sticks.
  • Encourage students to move more toward a popcorn-style discussion, so that any member of the group is welcome to share and respond rather than having to wait until it is his or her turn to speak.
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One Comment;

  1. Deb Thonus said:

    I’m doing this today! We are reading a class novel and this is a super way to conduct small literature circles. I can also see this strategy working with video assignments in the Student Center. Thank you!

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