2009 Age 9-11: Y5/6 (4/5 Grade US)

Kingfisher Primary School

Focus of case study

Why use the strategy of Talk Partners?

Pupil talk is central to active learning. Establishing talk partners is often the first step teachers take in experimenting with formative assessment, as it is relatively straightforward to embark on and the impact can be seen immediately.

Shirley Clarke 2008

As Shirley Clarke suggest talk partners is the easiest strategy to implement in the classroom first and is generally already happening without teachers realising. I found that I was already using talk partners in the form of ‘discuss with the person next to you.’ Other ideas include the process of ‘think, pair, share’ Therefore, this strategy was easy to adjust to and only small changes within my classroom were necessary.

Using Talk Partners ensures quality talk in the classroom. The main change in the classroom is who is doing the talking. Traditional classrooms is teacher talking to class or individuals and often many teachers usually have a question and response session as part of their lessons; whilst this provides opportunity for individual children to respond using ‘talk partners’ means that there is no opportunity for children to opt out while the confident few so most of the talking and thinking. Many of us are guilty of asking a question and waiting for the children to think and answer through raising their hands, however my research has shown that it is the same few children who are always first with their hands up and do most of the answering, therefore most of the class opt out of listening and thinking as a consequence. I have therefore introduced within my classroom a no hands up policy. The use of talk partners means there is a constant handover to the children when questions are asked or tasks are underway. Children are immediately more motivated to work because they are in charge of their own learning.

Some children feel more confident when using talk partners because they don’t feel any pressure as they are part of a paired response and there is time to discuss. Children begin to give more detailed answers and gradually developing higher- quality talk.

2. Aims and objectives:

What is “Talk Partners”?

As discussed previously many teachers already use ‘think, pair, and share’ Children are provided with an opportunity to think about a question/ task before they discuss it with a partner and then the results of the discussion probably shared in either groups or whole class situation. I realised I was using this approach without the label ‘talk partners’.

Some positive outcomes of using the talk partners approach are that it:

3. Actions/ Strategies used

How could I introduce talk partners in my classroom?

Why Random talk partners?

How do I select the pairings?

I like the idea but I am really worried about friends being chosen to sit together.

I have used talk partners over two academic years and I have only ever had to separate one pairings once. In one class two boys who were best friends and would always mess about if they were partners for anything ended up sitting together, I was really worried. However these particular boys were my talk partners of the week and I asked why they had been so good together and they stated, “We are learning partners, not friends and we have to follow the success criteria.”

What happens if they end up with the same pair?

If a pair is chosen at random whom sat together the previous week then as a class we decided that their names would be put back in, however it is evitable that children will end up together again and if it wasn’t the previous week then they will be partners again. The idea is that they build on the feedback given last time and continue to develop at being good learning partners.

4. Talk partners into practise

Initially, I introduced the concept to the class, explaining how the talk partners system would work and the rules that must be observed – e.g. sit knee to knee, listen, respond, take turns, share ideas and so on. We had a circle time discussion based around why it is important to talk about and share their learning with each other. I asked the children to think about what would happen if they didn’t share their learning with anyone.

Next, I modelled the strategy using my teaching assistant. We modelled being bad talk partners and the children shared their ideas as to how we could do it properly. Using this modelling process and the children’s idea success criteria was generated with the children agreeing a set of rules regarding respectful speaking and listening. These are displayed in the classroom as a reminder. The idea of random talk partners was introduced and I shared the random name generator programme with the children. They really liked this programme and the fairness factor, they like that it is completely out of my control. There had been some issues at first with children not wanting to sit with certain children but they really like the system now and want to sit with their friends less than before.

At the beginning of each week, I use the random name generator to identify pairings. The children choose which table and where in the classroom they want to sit. At the end of the week the children are given an evaluation in which they complete to determine whether they have been a good talk partner and whether their partner was a good partner. I choose which pair I feel has worked the best and followed the success criteria and gained the most benefit from having each other as a learning partner. This pair is stood up in golden assembly and each child receives a certificate.

At the start of different lessons, either problems were set or questions asked for the talk partners to work through and the pupils were encouraged to share their thoughts and knowledge with their partner to explain how they could solve the problem. Sometimes the children are asked to whiteboards to make jottings and notes to help refine their thinking. Whilst this is happening, depending on the length of the time given I walk around the classroom listening to children’s talk and identifying any misconceptions on the spot, giving immediate feedback. I find this useful for both APP and evaluating the children’s speaking and listening skills. As the pairs are random the children have opportunities over the weeks to work with peers who had different learning styles and ways of thinking to themselves.

A significant advantage in using this approach is that children never have to wait in a whole class ‘hands up’ situation – they always have an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas. I would ask the question or set the problem and then give the children their ‘talk’ time before using the programme to decide who will answer the question. This is often open to the pair rather than the individual. I have found that as a pair they support each other in their answering and enabling me to gain higher ordering thinking/ questioning. It has also made it very difficult for children to ‘switch off’ during this part of the lesson, as their talk partner was depending on their interaction and the children always had the sense ‘it could be me.’

I use talk partners in a variety of lessons and have found it particularly effective in literacy, numeracy, science, P.S.H.E. and PE. Alongside talk partners we also use the ‘ask-it’ baskets.

5. What key resources would people who want to learn from my experience need access to?

6. What has been the impact on learning?

The impact on learning, in a range of subjects across the whole class has been amazing. All children have become ready and willing to talk through their thinking, and are far more able to focus on the task in hand. Social skills are improving and quieter children are being given a voice and a place in the class. The quieter children have made the most progress, and have occasionally even taken on a lead role in discussions. One boy who was usually very quiet actually led a discussion on the effects of healthy eating and was keen to give his views.

There is a better ethos in classrooms, with greater mutual respect. No children are left out, so self esteem is good for everyone. Beginnings of lessons are now more efficient as children link straight away with their partner.

The amount of work produced has visibly increased, and the children are recalling more of their past learning to help them. In their independent class work, the children have increased their ability to solve problems by thinking them through and using what they know, instead of panicking! This has also meant the children are far more receptive to TASC problem solving wheel. The amount of pupil speaking, appropriate to the lesson, has increased dramatically so that ‘teacher talk’ has been reduced.

Children have themselves commented that they no longer get frustrated – instead of waiting with their hands up they can now share all their ideas with a partner and children are more willing to tackle independent tasks more effectively, using strategies they have gained from TASC to solve problems.

Children are more confident to answer questions when they have discussed it with a partner. By asking children to say what their partners said, there has been an improvement in children’s listening skills. Children are empowered to have a go. When giving explanations to lower achievers, higher achievers have to be really clear about their thinking, so each child benefits from the pairing.

I thought that the introduction of talk partners within my classroom may have been initially a problem, however the children were not phased and were really keen to be involved. I think my enthusiasm of the whole assessment for learning strategies rubbed off on the children and the overall atmosphere and ethos in the classroom is generally busy respectful and purposeful. Children like the idea of being responsible for their own learning. I had won the children over, parents were my biggest worry. However at parents evening I explained the benefits and success and explained that it would be weekly even they liked the idea of their children mixing with other children in this way.


What the children think:

At the end of the half term I gave the children a questionnaire to gain their thoughts and opinions on talk partners. I found that the children are extremely positive about the use of talk partners:

What has been the impact on teaching?

What I like about talk partners:

7. Plans for the future

8. Evaluation and recommendations

If another school wanted to introduce the elements of AFL in their school then I would suggest the essential elements would be:


Download Talk Partners feedback form example (PDF)