Top 10 Ways To Get Students Talking about their Reading by Tammy Mulligan

My grandmother was a kind and gentle person who only spoke when she had something important to say.   Although she didn’t carry on lengthy conversations, her words were full of wisdom.  As a young girl, I remember walking in the woods with her after arguing with my younger brother.  She stopped along the path, bent down and looked me in the eyes, “You know – What we say really matters.  It shows what we care about.”


Now many years later, I think about her message every time I sit beside a reader.

If what we say shows what we care about, then our conversations with readers are priceless.    When sitting beside a reader, I want readers to talk about what they are reading and about the process of reading.  I want to know what is working for them, what they are thinking about and what plans they have as readers.


So, how do we get them talking?  Here are the top ten ways Clare and I encourage readers to share their thinking.   Of course, the ideas listed below are not “ours.” We learned and continue to learn about teaching reading from so many influential educators – Dorothy Barnhouse, Gail Boushey, Lucy Calkins, Marie Clay, Peter Johnston, Debbie Miller, Donalyn Miller, Joan Moser, Regie Routman, Franki Sibberson, Jennifer Serravallo, Terry Thompson and Vicki Vinton to name just a few.    Their words have helped us refine our practices and think about how we encourage readers to talk about their reading.


Here are the top 10 ways we get students to talk about their reading:


  1. What are you working on as a reader?” – We ask this question because we want to send the message that all readers have goals. They might want to read more books by an author, find more time to read or vary the genres they read.   We want students to know that we value their goals and ideas.


  1. “What are you thinking?” – These four little words convey a big idea – reading is thinking.   Readers need to know that their thoughts and ideas are important and we want to hear them.


  1. “What makes you think that?” – These five little words are an important follow-up question to “What are you thinking?” When we want to learn how our readers are developing their ideas we ask this question to better understand.


  1. Listen – Listening is one of our most valuable teaching tools. Sometimes silence helps our students open up and tell us what is on their mind.


  1. “What are your next steps or what are your plans?” – Readers make plans so that reading continues to be a part of their lives. We think about what we will read next, when we will read and how we will share our ideas.  We want readers to know that they too are expected to make reading plans.


  1. “Take me to a place that is …. (interesting, confusing, exciting, funny, etc.)” This prompt allows students to be in charge of their learning and shows us what is important to them.


  1. “What do you notice?”– We want students to pay attention to details in a text. When we listen to what they notice, we understand their thinking process better.


  1. “I noticed you….” – Peter Johnston reminds us, “If nothing else, children should leave with a sense that if they act, and act strategically, they can accomplish their goals.” When we notice their actions as readers, students are more likely to employ strategies when reading independently.


  1. “How did you figure that out?” – When we see students figure something out, we want to understand how they did it and make they aware of the steps they took.


  1. “What are you reading?” – When we ask this question we send a message that readers read and readers think about what they are reading.


These are our top 10 ways to get our readers talking about their reading. What are some ways you encourage students to talk about their reading?  We would love to hear your thoughts.


Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan have been working in the field of professional development for the past 20 years. They now run a private staff development business, Teachers for Teachers, working with varied school systems to implement best practices in the field of literacy and to engage in institutional change.  They are the authors of Assessment in Perspective.  You can find them on Twitter as @clareandtammy and online at