I’ve received several requests to explain the Chalk Talk activity from my post on teaching Catcher in the Rye.
This year, I’ve also used it to discuss The Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, and Great Expectations — but it can work for any subject, as long as you’ve got a board and chalk or markers.
I first learned to Chalk Talk in a course called Theater in the English Classroom I took last summer. Thanks to my teacher Angela Brazil for this strategy!
Here’s what to do:
1. Write your topic on the board.
In my theater class, the word was “Revenge.”
For Catcher, I wrote, “Holden: typical teen or mentally disturbed?”
2. Invite students to respond to the topic — with definitions, quotations, questions, even pictures.
What happens next is fun and refreshing to watch: a group of students will rush to the board, eager to share their ideas and respond to each other.
I look for students who hang back and invite them to add their thoughts, too. Everyone participates in some way, even the quiet kids. I also appreciate how this activity helps push our thinking further than usual if we begin class with it.
3. Once everyone is back in their seats, we reflect on what they’ve made.
Then, I ask questions such as:
What do you see that you like?
What do you notice?
What did you add?
I also comment on these questions, and relate them to new questions for us to discuss.
4. You can go anywhere from here, including introducing a text, going back into a text, and asking students to write more on the topic.
Now, each time I announce a Chalk Talk, my students say or whisper, “Yessss!”
It’s no surprise, of course: kids are itching to express themselves, and writing on the board is an irresistible impulse.