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Using Talking Points with Science Texts

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Using talking points with science texts is an effective way to encourage close reading of a text as well as a way of structuring group discussion. A series of statements is chosen for discussion and these can be factually accurate or contentious or even blatantly wrong as long as they are thought-provoking and relate to the text. We often use this approach with fiction but today I’m going to explore how we can adapt this to work with nonfiction texts.

Why use Talking Points?

Having a statement as a stimulus as opposed to asking questions focuses discussion and encourages deeper thinking about the subject, as statements have to be discussed and not simply answered. Too many questions can feel interrogative whereas the discussion of a statement requires exploration and justification. It removes the focus from an individual being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Children can feel this pressure even when the question and teaching style are open.

The Challenges of Nonfiction

Dense information-rich text can present challenges for a reader who is trying to get to grips with unfamiliar concepts. Repeated reading is essential for even the most experienced reader when faced with new information. Using talking points prior to reading supports engagement when the text and a purposeful way of encouraging repeated reading. Searching for information to prove the accuracy of the statements builds the skills of skimming and scanning and improves the speed of retrieval. 

Selecting Talking Points

I’m going to share an example of Talking Points created using Exploring Space by Stephen Biesty which is included in Take One Book for Year Six. I selected the chapter entitled ‘Coming Back to Earth’ which explores the science behind returning astronauts from space.  This part of the process is flexible. Use your knowledge of the children, their experience and prior knowledge of the subject. This is an easy task to differentiate. You might give more challenging statements to some groups. Ten is a good number of Talking Points but it could be more or less depending on the context. Here are five that I have created to give you an idea:

Returning to earth from space is much easier than taking off. 
There is only one problem when space vehicles return to earth and that is how to stop the space vehicle burning up on re-entry. 
Astronauts use parachutes to return to earth. 
All astronauts land in the sea when they come back to earth. 
Space vehicles can be used more than once to go into space. 

Talking Points in Practice

If the class is not familiar with using Talking Points, begin by sharing one statement with the whole class, for example: 

Returning to earth from space is much easier than taking off. 

Discuss with the whole class listing points of agreement or disagreement on the board. It is important to acknowledge that we can be unsure at this stage and that we may have reasons to agree and disagree with this statement. Encourage the children to refer to their prior knowledge and experience when considering the statement. Once the class are happy with the process, move into small group to continue to discuss the statements. Discussing their responses to each statement in a small group allows children to verbalise and extend their thinking, as they present their own ideas and respond to those of others. The small group environment also provides the opportunity for children to explore ideas and develop their reasoning skills and allows them to develop an argument supported or challenged by their peers. 

Introducing the Text

The next stage in the process is to introduce the class to the text that the statements were based on. I like to begin by reading the chapter aloud so that children can tune in to the author’s voice. If children have their own copy of the text, they can follow as you read. The reading can also be broken up by giving time for pairs to explore the illustrations. Next, pairs should reread the chapter to find out whether the statements were true or false. If false, they should rewrite the statement to make it true. A final challenge can be for pairs or small groups to write their own statements for others to discuss.

Take One Book

Take One Book is Just Imagine’s resource for teaching reading using high-quality children’s books. Starting with personal response, lesson sequences (made of flexible building blocks) integrate reading skills teaching using strategies that are engaging and purposeful. The Take One Book selection has a balance of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Talking Points are used in a range of sequences so that children develop the skills they need in context with a wide range of texts of increasing complexity and challenge.