Saint-Didier primary school

Cycle 1: "Talk time"

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Every morning, I welcome the children one by one, thus nurturing a rapport with each child while, at the same time, striving towards a broader but specific aim: in the collective area known as the class, everyone remains an individual, and nothing is diluted in the group, which remains "out of sight".

Their heads are filled with recent events, especially from the previous day, happy moments or sad news difficult to bear. It is for this very reason that during the first period of the day, the children are extremely eager to show me a new object or to tell me about something of the utmost importance: a shiny new hair clip, a shoebox containing a treasure, an account of a visit to a castle…

I show an interest in all the wonderful things that are presented to me. I listen to their adventures with genuine interest. I observe the child who leaves me to present the same story or same object to the other children. In this process of exchange, a real need for communication is evident, and the class should of course accommodate this need.




To this end, the exchanges between child and adult, or even between two children, are not enough. There ought to be a specific context in which every child's need for communication is fulfilled. In my class, the period called "Talk Time" provides this context. "Talk Time" has been carefully thought out and it reflects my pedagogical intentions, which I would summarize as follows :

1- To offer to every child the possibility of talking during a specific time and in a specific space in which he/she feels safe (a non-threatening space, according to Jacques Lévine), without the inhibitory judgement of others. In this way, the children learn to control any fears they might have and to have the courage to express themselves.

2- To establish a time/space that serves as a receptacle for the 'slices of life' offered to the group. For the talker, it is no longer simply communicating to a group, but more like offering a gift. In return, the talker receives the group's appreciation, which enhances his/her self-esteem.

3- To promote or consolidate the mastery of language in a group situation – distinct from one-to-one situations – and in a specific language context. This process occurs not only through regular use of the language but also through the introduction of various terms and expressions that may otherwise be used incorrectly and indiscriminately by children.

4- To contribute to making the school a place that is connected to everyday life. A place where anyone can talk about their joys, wants and problems. This also serves the purpose of providing a place where anyone can ask for help or support, directly or indirectly. This is not different from what happens at home.

To make the leap from pedagogical intentions to exact implementation of the talk context, I attempted to develop a step-by-step guide that can be easily mastered and that can motivate the children to want to actively participate. Here is the detailed description:

  • In the middle of the class, in an easily accessible place for everyone, are the pupils' individual cards containing their photo and first name. The cards symbolize the prior participation of the pupils in the group-class, and are also used beforehand for registering in individual activity groups that run during the morning in the welcome period.

  • At the end of the welcome period, just before the first collective activity of the day, children who want to participate in the Talk Time that follows have to register using this card. This procedure makes the child think about their talk and to prepare for it, and, at the same time, manifest their desire to communicate. Prior registration is compulsory, and no-one who genuinely wants to participate in Talk Time will try to get around this. This is a rule of class conduct; it is discussed at the beginning of every year to explain its meaning and the children can rely on it to construct their environment .

  • When everyone is present, I begin Talk Time, by clapping my hands three times while announcing the ritual phrase, "Talk Time is open."

  • Among the children who have taken on an activity leader role in Talk Time, two of them -- previously designated according to a specific procedure (see class chores) -- bring , respectively, the cards of registered children and the box in which children have placed all objects to be shown to the group-class. This box has an important role: it keeps all the objects in one place, it helps in the smooth running of Talk Time, and it provides the opportunity of having another activity leader whose chore is to return the objects to their owners at the end of the day.

  • One of these two activity leaders counts the cards, divides them equally into two bags, then hands one bag to each of the two activity leaders whose role is to call out the names in turn.

  • The child who invites talkers reads the first name or recognises the photo on the card, then places it in the box in the middle of the room, a cue for the talker to begin.

  • The child calling the names must try to speak loudly and to follow each talk attentively – to not leave too much time between the end of one talk and the invitation to the next talker – so that the group is not delayed. At the beginning of the year, I help the most reluctant children. However, quite soon, my intervention is no longer necessary. When the smooth running of Talk Time is jeopardised by the casual attitude of the activity leader , that child is stripped of their role for the remainder of the current activity, regaining it the next time. This process impresses upon the children the seriousness of their roles, and makes them more attentive. Every child eventually grasps the meaning of the exercise.

  • After hearing their name called out, the talker will proceed to show an object, perhaps something that they are wearing, or talk about something that affects them or the class… When one of the items in the box is needed for the talk, I lift the lid for the child. When the talk is finished, the object is placed on the box lid, in view of everyone.

  • According to the number of children registered, one question or one comment from the audience may be allowed after the talk, in which case, the talker chooses the child from the audience. Each child can only make one comment or ask one question during Talk Time, to ensure a wide range of responses in a reasonable period of time.

  • Sometimes, there are too many children registered for the allotted time, in which case Talk Time has to be stopped early. The children who didn't have a chance to talk have to postpone to the next day. This procedure is not disruptive. In the first place, it makes the children more aware of time and the need to be strict. When they realise that they could not express themselves due to lack of time, they will focus their attention quicker the next time. Finally, it's another reason for sticking to the class timetable. If all activities are considered to be of equal importance, a given period cannot encroach on another.

  • At the end of Talk Time, I clap three times while announcing "Talk Time is closed." The activity leader with card duties collects and hands them to Marie-Odile (nurse assistant), who makes a record of which children took part. These notes will later allow me to assess each child's participation level. The activity leader with box duties places the objects back inside the box, then stores the box away.

  • It should be noted that Talk Time does not take place on Mondays, which are set aside for the division of chores and reading of life notebooks, other life and group communication activities with different operation. The collective activities would simply be too long with Talk Time too.

Notably, I only intervene to allow or promote the proper conduct of Talk Time, e.g. to make children realise how important it is to allow all audience members to have a good view of their object -- show to the right, then to the left--, or to question the children gently, without insisting, in order that they clarify the meaning of a picture or what they are saying.

Similarly, I absolutely abide by one fundamental aspect: to never intervene because of something the children say or show. I never judge the value of each talk. Anything can be said; there is no selection of what could be interesting or not. The opposite attitude would be considered to be an unnecessary intrusion by experts in child psychology, and would be a major obstacle to communication. As such, the effects would be disastrous.

Finally, through my observations during the whole year, the effects of Talk Time on the behaviour of the children have become clear. Children who expressed themselves confidently become better at clarifying their thoughts. Others who never dared to talk gradually do, at first timidly then with more confidence. All this has reinforced my confidence in this approach. However, it needs to be realised that change takes time. And above all, one needs to have absolute faith in the emancipating power of the exercise, which steers children in the right direction, towards effective communication with others, and away from withdrawal in themselves.

Paul Psaltopoulos


This page has been translated from French by Andreas Theodorou.






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summary > school > cycle 1

Last Update :05/25/05