Communication Skills for Student and Teacher Dialogue | Steve Barkley
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Five Core Communication Skills for Student to Student and Teacher to Teacher Dialogue

Academic Conversations Book CoverAuthor, Jeff Zwiers and Contributer Marie Crawford identify five communication skills that we should strategically teach and coach our students to develop in their book, Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understanding. They are:

  1. Elaborate and Clarify
  2. Support Ideas with Examples
  3. Build On and/or Challenge Ideas
  4. Paraphrase
  5. Synthesize

As I explored the importance of these skills to enhance peer-to-peer and collaborative work among students in a classroom, I realized that teachers need the same skills to engage in co-teaching, peer coaching, and professional learning communities (PLCs).

Each of these skills has two structures to implement:

  1. How do I employ the strategy as a listener to increase the engagement of my colleagues?
  2. How do I employ the strategy as a speaker to communicate with my peer?

Elaborate and Clarify

“Elaborating provides more important information about a topic or idea. The elaborator should be aware of the amount and detail of the information that needs to be shared to make the point clear. Likewise, a listener should know when more information is needed.”

Prompt your classmate with…

  • Can you be more specific?
  • How so?
  • How/Why is that important?

Respond to your classmate with…

  • An analogy for this might be…
  • It is important because…
  • It’s similar to when…

Support Ideas with Examples

“A good question sparks conversation, brings up issues that have not yet been addressed, looks at different perspectives, and addresses big-picture and long-run issues. Questioning also shows others that you genuinely care about what they think and say.”

Prompt your classmate with…

  • What is a real-world example?
  • What is an example from your life?
  • What is the evidence for that?

Respond to your classmate with…

  • For instance…
  • According to…
  • An illustration of this could be…

Build On and/or Challenge Ideas

Three women having a conversation

“In a conversation, your next idea should build on, connect to, or logically challenge what your partner just said. Your idea should not be a random idea tossed out to smother or replace your partner’s idea.”

Prompt your classmate with…

  • Can you add to this idea?
  • Do you agree?
  • What might be other points of view?
  • What are other ideas?

Respond to your classmate with…

  • I want to expand on your point about…
  • I want to follow up on your idea…
  • I want to challenge your reason…


“Paraphrasing is the skill of keeping track of what we are hearing, organizing the speaker’s points, and describing what we understand in our own words. It requires some selection and inference. We “read” the speaker’s tone and emphasis and see what is important to them. This helps us select key points for our paraphrased version of what the speaker said.”

Prompt your classmate with…

  • How can we relate what I said to the topic/question?
  • What do we know so far?
  • What is your take on what I said?
  • What are you hearing?

Respond to your classmate with…

  • In other words…
  • What I am hearing is…
  • Essentially, you think that…


“Synthesizing conversation points means remembering, highlighting, and fitting together key ideas from the conversation into a coherent thought statement.”

Prompt your classmate with…

  • What can we agree upon?
  • What main points can we share?
  • What key idea can we take away?

Respond to your classmate with…

  • How does this sound?
  • What if we?
  • The evidence seems to suggest that…

Putting the Five Communication Skills into Practice

In many classrooms teachers need to provide structured opportunities for students to practice and build these collaborative conversation skills. As school leaders, you may need to provide similar structured opportunities for teachers to practice collaborative conversation.

Here is a strategy I use for teachers to review short research summaries. In groups of four, the first person reads the summary out loud. The second person paraphrases the summary. The third person identifies her experiences that reinforce or challenge the research. The fourth person identifies implications of the research for her classroom or school. Change roles and begin another research summary.

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2 Responses to “ Five Core Communication Skills for Student to Student and Teacher to Teacher Dialogue ”

  1. Jan VanGilder Says:

    Super article! Wow! This is spot on! Can’t wait to purchase the book!

  2. Deidre Parish Says:

    Thank you, Steve!! Timely, relevant information – so helpful for engaging students in learning.

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