Book Talk

Action research:

Focus: Book Talk

Year group: Yr 3/4

Date: Jan 2016

Reference: ‘Tell Me’ by Aidan Chambers

Description:  Talk around ‘The Tunnel’ by Anthony Browne, starting as a whole class for one week and then more focused work with group of 7 pupils for one week, all during ‘reading time.’


  • Time: time is of the essence and also possible stumbling block: the more time we put in, the deeper the pupils’ responses and the richer the learning but how can we balance time spent on this with other demands on ‘reading time’—eg to teach them comprehension skills?
  • Talk: this is all about the talk rather than the reading. While ongoing re-reading of the text became an important part of the process, it was the time spent talking rather than reading that made this such a valuable activity.

Possible ways forward:-

  1. Classes to focus Book Talk on short stories and/or picture books and/or poetry instead of longer texts.
  2. Book Talk to be used for work with small groups who need to develop a broader reading diet.
  • Holding back: This was a constantly challenge for me. The temptation to step in with a point of view and/or a ‘why’ question was all consuming at times. It was a particular challenge when there was a lull in the discourse and I became concerned that the ‘talk’ was drying up. Even when I stepped in with one of Aidan Chamber’s general or specific questions, it felt like I had jarred the pupils’ thinking. As with any good conversation, the talk must always lead on from the pupils’ previous response or you lose interest. The Book Talk questions, while they are all open ended and judgement free, should still only be used where natural to ask.

Must remember:-

  1. In this context, what I, the teacher, think matters little. This is all about bringing on the pupils’ thinking.
  • All responses valued: This is also a challenge for the teacher. It is one thing to commit to valuing all responses, quite another to keep one’s reaction encouraging but neutral enough that we don’t unwittingly imply we value one response over another. It is important to allow pupils to give responses when and if they ‘want to give them. Two pupils started quietly’ here but with the space to think and without the pressure, they were willingly and confidently ‘joining in’ by the end.

Must remember:-

  1. To stay interested but non-committal.
  • Group dynamics: Important to vary this to help engagement and spread of ideas. Important also to get the balance just right between pupils contributing freely and some pupils being drowned out by others who contribute too freely. Teaching pupils to listen for a natural pause before they speak is a good conversational skill in itself. Varying the group dynamic and method also important including for example strategies like ‘snowballing.’


  1. Need time to develop pupil skills in this regard- through good modelling and a flexible but firm set of ‘rules for engagement.’

Pupil feedback:

‘It felt like we went deeper, in head first and we found out what the book was really about.’

‘I preferred it to doing comprehensions because when you o comprehensions, it feels like you’re being put on the spot, it’s scary because other people might know and you might not and it can make you feel left out.’

‘I like the way we’re all together for Book Talk, that there’s no fear, there’s no right or wrong.’


N Moss Jan 2016





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