Academic Conversations

Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings

Where would we be without conversation? Throughout history, conversations have allowed us to see different perspectives, build ideas, and solve problems. Conversations, particularly those referred to in this book as academic conversations, push students to think and learn in lasting ways.

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Academic conversations are back-and-forth dialogues in which students focus on a topic and explore it by building, challenging, and negotiating relevant ideas. Unfortunately, academic conversations are rare in many classrooms. Talk is often dominated by the teacher and a few students, or it doesn't advance beyond short responses to the teacher's questions. Even certain teaching approaches and curriculum programs neglect to train students on how to maintain a focused, respectful, and thoughtful conversation.

To address these challenges, authors Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford have identified five core communication skills to help students hold productive academic conversations across content areas. These skills include elaborating and clarifying, supporting ideas with evidence, building on and/or challenging ideas, paraphrasing, and synthesizing. This book shows teachers how to weave the cultivation of academic conversation skills and conversations into current teaching approaches. More specifically, it describes how to use conversations to build the following:

  • Academic vocabulary and grammar

  • Critical thinking skills such as persuasion, interpretation, consideration of multiple perspectives, evaluation, and application

  • Literacy skills such as questioning, predicting, connecting to prior knowledge, and summarizing

  • Complex and abstract essential understandings in content areas such as adaptation, human nature, bias, conservation of mass, energy, gravity, irony, democracy, greed, and more

  • An academic classroom environment brimming with respect for others' ideas, equity of voice, engagement, and mutual support

The ideas in Academic Conversation: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings stem from many hours of classroom practice, research, and video analysis across multiple grade levels and content areas. Readers will find practical activities for working on each conversation skill, crafting conversation-worthy tasks, and using conversations to teach and assess. Academic Conversations offers an in-depth approach to helping students develop into future parents, teachers, and leaders who will collaborate to build a better world.


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About the Author(s)

Jeff Zwiers, Ed.D., is a senior researcher at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. He has taught in diverse elementary and secondary schools and has worked as an instructional coach in urban school settings. His current research and professional development work consist of collaborating with teachers to learn what works best in real classrooms to help students learn through rich interactions and conversations.


Marie Crawford is an assistant principal at Central Middle School in the San Carlos School District. She has been a mentor-teacher for urban teachers, a classroom teacher in urban schools, and a museum educator.

Table of Contents

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Chapter 1: Reasons to Converse in School
Chapter 2: Getting Started with Academic Conversations
Chapter 3: Lesson Activities for Developing Core Conversation Skills
Chapter 4: Designing Effective Conversation Tasks
Chapter 5: Training Students for Advanced Conversations
Chapter 6: Developing Academic Grammar and Vocabulary Through Conversation
Chapter 7: Conversations in Language Arts
Chapter 8: Conversations in History
Chapter 9: Conversations in Science
Chapter 10: Academic Conversations Assessment
Chapter 11: Reminders

Product Details

Grades: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Media: 240 pp/paper
Year: 2011
Item No: 0884
ISBN: 978-1-57110-884-5