How to Increase Student Engagement, Thinking, and Comprehension

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Kids Need to Talk in Order to Learn

Kids like to talk. No, kids LOVE to talk. I know I’m not telling you anything new. Managing talkative students can be one of our most challenging classroom management issues.

But did you know that kids NEED to talk in order to learn? In fact, whoever is doing the talking is doing the thinking. Talking is out-loud thinking. And listening to students talk provides a window into their thinking–in fact, it’s one of the most valuable tools we have for assessing comprehension.

A Common Problem in Most Reading Classrooms

About 15 years ago, I learned about a common classroom discourse pattern. After I learned about it, I cringed as a realized that it was often the go-to pattern in my own classroom.

It goes like this:

  1. Teacher initiates. (asks a question)
  2. Student responds.
  3. Teacher evaluates.

It might sound something like this:

  1. Teacher: “Who can tell me how the main character changed from the beginning of the story to the end?”
  2. Student: “At the beginning of the story the character ____, but by the end the character _____.”
  3. Teacher: “Great thinking!”

Courtney Cazden named this pattern the I.R.E pattern back in 1988. Sadly, over 30 years later, it is still the most common discourse pattern that I observe in classrooms today.

Here’s the thing: even after I worked really hard on asking higher-order thinking questions, I was still falling into the I.R.E. pattern. And that pattern was laden with problems. BTW, asking students how a character changed throughout a text (like the example above) is a GOOD question. The question isn’t the problem--it’s the discourse pattern that is problematic.

A Simple Solution

But the good news is that a few small moves can change this pattern and have a dramatic impact on student engagement, thinking, and comprehension.


I would love to show you 3 simple moves that you can implement immediately. They won’t take extra time out of your day and aren’t hard to plan, but they will have a dramatic effect on student achievement and engagement. One of them is something I just recently learned about, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be new to you, too!


3 Simple Tips for Increasing
Student Engagement and Comprehension

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