Sunday, April 13, 2014

Chalk talk within Clues to a Culture literacy unit

As we began our Clues to a Culture unit, we used Chalk Talk as a preassessment, to build background knowledge, and to activate schema.  Keep in mind that students have already begun reading one of five novels rich in cultural conflict: Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Sign of the Beaver, Birchbark House, and Little House on the Prairie.

The four Chalk Talk questions used throughout the unit were:
 1) How do different cultures use the Earth’s resources (plants, trees, water, oil, soil)? 
2) How do different cultures view animals? (pets, food, work)?
3) In what ways does religion play a part in a culture’s beliefs and customs?
4) How are a culture’s customs and beliefs shown in their stories, art and music?
Our first round of chalk talk allowed students to activate their schema by simply answering these four questions in general.  Students first silently went around the tables and wrote responses to each question on the chart paper.

     After the silent thinking, students went around in table groups to orally discuss the responses.  This allowed all students to take part in discussions. 

One of the most insightful discoveries students made during the oral discussion was that the four questions are not separate questions at all.  To the contrary, they are interrelated. Students noticed that an answer to the animal question could fit with the religion, earth's resources, and art questions.

Our second round of chalk talk posed the same four questions as they relate to the novels students were reading.  Groups now consisted of students reading the same novel.  The same routine was used (silent then oral discussion).  This allowed all readers of a novel to contribute examples in the text for each question. These open, guiding questions made for rich discussion and discovery in the text without driving students to explicit answers.  Chalk talk lends itself to guiding a discussion without limitations, allowing each student to respond with their own thinking. The novel-based responses to the chalk talk questions opened the door for the next phase of our unit: In what ways do readers learn about a culture from both fiction and nonfiction?


  1. I like the use of chalk talk at the beginning of a study--it's such a great way for all voices to get heard and to play off one another. It seems like the students discovery that the guiding questions were interrelated illustrates the transference of ideas. I think your strategy of using the same questions throughout the study is a great way to not only focus the students' thinking, but to also show how the same questions can be used to study many different venues. I'm going to go read the next step of your work....

  2. I'm so impressed by this whole unit, Barb... and I read all of these posts backwards! But I get it! I think your use of backwards design really cemented the organization and how each of these routines you used were able to build upon each other. I love how you used Chalk Talk whole group to introduce the enduring understandings and then were able to let the kids take ownership of the routine and use it in their book groups- wish I could have been a fly on the wall!