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TNLI: Action Research: Curriculum Implementation: Teaching Kids How to Talk: The Benefits of Teaching Struggling Readers to have Deeper, More Effective Conversations


Research Summary

The Question:

How can I best use my after school time with my struggling readers and how will these skills show up in the classroom?

Rationale for Study:

With the emphasis on teaching kids to talk about their reading within the reading workshop curriculum, it is essential that we think about how we are helping our struggling kids achieve. In my classroom, the struggling readers were not a part of our classroom conversations in a meaningful way. The conversations about the whole class read aloud book were not helping these kids because they were not engaged, and they did not often understand how to be a part of the conversation. They needed help learning how to join the discussion, and also the confidence in their ideas about reading to be willing to participate.

With the idea that my kids needed time to work on their reading out loud as well, I planned my after school time. We spend 2 hours a week after or before school with students who do not have IEPs, but need extra help based on test scores and teacher observation. I carefully chose my 7 students who were struggling to keep up in reading, and verbally in class discussions. These 5 girls and 2 boys started staying with me until 4:15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.


I teach fourth grade at a Pre-K through 5 school in Brooklyn, New York. The school is very diverse, though very fortunate. Only 37 percent of our children qualify for free lunch, and our PTA is very active. Our school is also not new to the workshop method, which is now being implemented around the city. My students have had reading and writing workshop since Kindergarten. They are used to having book talks and the value of talk in the classroom.

Data Collection

  • Transcripts of small and large group conversations, about reading as well as other topics.
  • Tally charts to keep track of the kinds of conversation moves that children made during conversations.
  • Running records to assess fluency and reading level.
  • Questionnaires to assess the kids’ feelings about the after school group.
  • ELA test scores from 3rd grade and 4th grade.
  • Journal entries to document my thoughts about the planning.


The kids make stronger conversation moves during read aloud book talks such as; asking questions of the other readers, wondering about things, making inferences, comparing to another text, and giving evidence from the text to support their ideas. Previously it was mostly retelling and agreeing and disagreeing.

The kids are more confident that they have good ideas, and therefore participate more in whole class conversations.

The kids use talk effectively in other areas, such as math, to explain ideas and build deeper understanding.

The kids are more fluent readers, paying better attention to punctuation, and using expression.

With the group as a structure, these struggling kids formed a support group that they held onto even in the regular classroom. They call on each other in whole class conversations, as well as at other times throughout the day. They stick up for each other, and they work together persistently. For struggling students, the encouragement they give each other is invaluable.

The students’ test scores on the grade 4 ELA test show that the talking about reading after-school was helpful, and a good use of time. The kids were successful test takers while becoming better readers and talkers instead of receiving extra written, individual test prep (as strugglers often do).

The students loved after school time, and looked forward to it every Tuesday and Thursday.


After-school time with struggling readers is normally reserved for test prep. However, using this time to teach kids how to have stronger conversation skills about books has benefits beyond their reading skills or their test scores. The kids will do well on the tests and improve their reading skills because they are learning how to have ideas about texts, and how to support these ideas. That is what makes good talk, and also good readers and thinkers. All areas of the curriculum can be covered through conversation, even math, and this talk builds understanding, and helps to grow ideas where individual work alone does not.


Karen Ramirez

Research Focus:

TNLI Affiliate:
New York City

PS 29-John M. Harrigan
425 Henry Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute, please e-mail Kimberly Johnson for more information.



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