Chalk Talk

Author: Matthew Tidwell

Time: 1 class period
Materials: Dry erase or chalk board
Dry erase pens or chalk

A “Chalk Talk” is a protocol developed by the Coalition of Essential Schools and is used by Critical Friends Groups as a process for "looking at student work" and engaging in reflective practice. All students stand quietly around (at) a chalk or white board. One person (the teacher in this case) writes a word, phrase or question on the board and places the marker in the tray. Participants at random add their impressions to the phrase or can add comments/questions to the ideas written by others. No one speaks for several minutes as the process continues. There are no wrong comments and it is considered a "safe" environment for adding ideas. The result should resemble a branching tree or web and there will be diverse responses. This will add to the depth of understanding of the group or perhaps raise new questions. They will use this protocol to raise questions and new ideas about the working world, workers, and today’s working conditions.

Students will be able to:
1. Complete a “Chalk Talk” as a way to share their insights, perceptions and observations of the working world.
2. Complete a “Chalk Talk” to gain a class-wide understanding of the working world and today’s working conditions.
3. Express their personal insights of the working world in a piece of reflective writing.

Strand 1
Concept 6: Comprehension Strategies
PO5: Apply knowledge of organizational structures of text to aid comprehension.

Teacher Background
Teachers must understand the concept of “Chalk Talk” and be able to perform the activity in class.

Resource Websites

None for this lesson.



1. While students are entering the classroom, the activity should already be set up with the questions written out on the board: 1) What is the state of the American worker in the United States today, 2) What issues concern me the most about entering the working world, 3) By observing your parents when they are working, what effect does work have on them?

2. Introduce the lesson as a way to direct the students’ thinking of the upcoming unit: The effect of the Industrial Revolution on the American worker. As a stepping-stone, they will look at their perceptions of the workers in today’s world. A Chalk Talk is an excellent way for them to share their own insights with the rest of the class.

3. Explain the rules of a Chalk Talk:
A. Most important rule—the class must remain absolutely silent. There is no speaking, responding, grunting, sighing. Basically, no noise making of any kind.
B. The students move to the board and form a half circle. Each student should be able to see what is written clearly.
C. When the Chalk Talk begins, students go up to the board one by one and respond to the questions written on the board (see step 1). They may respond using one-word answers, phrases, or questions. If students want to respond to something someone else has written they may draw a line from that response to their response. The end result will look like a giant web.
D. The Chalk Talk should last about between 10-15 minutes. Once it starts going, students are generally reluctant to stop.

4. Have students return to their seats and lead a 15-minute discussion based on the responses. Be sure to direct the conversation to the comments made about their parents and their concerns. What do these comments say about the working world today? Do you think conditions have improved or become worse?

Assign in-class reflective writing:
Give students the rest of the class to further respond to the chalk talk and discussion in a reflective writing assignment using the following prompt:

1. Discuss your personal feelings about the state of the American worker in the United States today. Give three comments and support each comment with a concrete detail.
2. Students should turn in the writing at the end of class.

If applicable

Embedded Assessment

Focusing on the students’ writing and their ability to make three statements and support them with concrete detail assesses the assignment. It is assumed that this is a writing skill that has already been covered.




PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

1996-2007, The University of Arizona
Last update: November 10, 2009
  Page Content: Rachel Hughes
Web Master: Travis Biazo