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Oral language is the foundation for the complex literacy skills that are critical to a child’s success in today’s knowledge and society. A talk pattern which has the potential to foster higher-level comprehension is termed a “grand conversation” (Eeds & Wells, 1989).
The grand conversation refers to authentic, lively talk about text. The teacher initiates the discussion with a “big” question or interpretive prompt. The talk pattern is conversational – the teacher asks fewer questions, but the questions she or he asks are an authentic response to what students are saying. Turn-taking occurs spontaneously with students taking responsibility for shaping the content and route of the discussion. Decisions about who talks, in what order and for how long, flow naturally as students and teacher alike exchange ideas, information and perspectives. During the conversation, the teacher participates as a member of the group, stepping in as needed to facilitate and scaffold the conversation, but it is the students who carve out the conversational path. The teacher typically brings closure to the conversation by summarizing, drawing conclusions or establishing goals for the next conversation or by assisting students to do this.
To be successful, grand conversations require a safe and inclusive classroom environment that can support students in freely expressing their ideas and opinions and collaboratively constructing meaning.