Tips on Structured Student Conversations

The Reading Strategies Book Study Header

Welcome! I’m joining up with a few of my favorite teacher bloggers for a book study of Jennifer Serravallo’s book, The Reading Strategies Book. Join us as we focus in on a few of our favorite reading

When our principal walks through our rooms she leaves a little note with a few compliments and a suggestion. The last suggestion she left me was to increase student talk. Knowing that this is an area I need to work on, I’m excited to take a deeper look at a few of the ideas presented in “The Reading Strategies Book”. Deepening comprehension through speaking & listening is part of the 12th goal. Here are 3 “gold nuggets” I especially liked from this chapter:

Focus Strategy 1
12.2 Listen and Respond

Listening is as equally important as speaking during a conversation. Students and some adults sometimes overlook this key concept! So, active listening should be explicitly taught and modeled.
Seravallo suggests telling students, “Sometimes when you come to a club or partnership conversation, you get so excited to talk about what you were thinking when reading independently that you don’t listen well enough to the other people in your group. Or sometimes you might find that you’re rehearsing what you want to say over and over in your mind that you can’t actually hear what other say. When this happens, you miss out. The new thoughts your friends offer might help you revise your own thinking, come to new conclusions, or even get a whole new idea. Listen first, then share your own thoughts in response to what you heard.”

Focus Strategy 212.4 Say Back What You Heard

Actively listen to your partner, paraphrase what they say. This not only ensures that you were listening but confirms that you understand before you respond. A simple sentence frame to help students with this would be “I heard you say ________. What I think is ________.”

Focus Strategy 312.10 Sentence Starter Sticks

Sentence starters can prompt students to move from one thought to the next. I’ve put these sentence starters on popsicle sticks in a jar. When the conversations begins to feel stuck, pull a sentence starter stick, and use that phrase to get the conversation going again.

Some sentence starters you might use are:
  • In addition…
  • On the other hand…
  • I agree/disagree because…
  • I’d like to add to what ___ said…
  • What do you think about…?

**Bonus ~ Conversation Playing Board

This idea looked too good, I couldn’t leave it out. It looks like it would be most effective in upper elementary. The idea on the post-it in the center is in play. The group focuses on talking about the one idea that is in play for as long as possible. When the idea is talked out, a different group member takes a new idea from his or her pile, reads it, and moves that one into the center so it becomes in play. Checking the middle can help anyone who might lose focus. Group members can suggest, “Do you think we can keep going with this topic or is it time to switch to another one?”


For this book study, we are only focusing on a few strategies. This book offers so much more! I encourage you to check it out for yourself. If you’d like your own copy you can find it here:

(This is an affiliate link, but I only suggest products I use myself. I earn a small percentage each time someone uses one of my links, which helps to support the blog. )


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How to Teach Main Idea


+++Understanding the what a reading passage or book is mostly about is at the core of reading comprehension.  As the complexity of the text increases, the task of determining importance becomes more challenging. Students at all grade levels need support in this process. They need strategies and practice to hone this skill as texts get longer. Reading research quaterly states that even expert readers follow a process and apply strategies while constructing the main idea. Continue reading