Summarizing in Silence: The Chalk Talk Strategy

Summarizing Chalk Talk Strategy

Imagine your classroom transformed. Students are actively engaged, thinking critically, and collaborating to construct a deeper understanding of diverse topics. This captivating learning environment is within reach by harnessing the power of summarizing, a transformable strategy applicable across all content areas. 

The Power of Student  Summarizing

Research consistently highlights the multifaceted benefits of summarizing:

  • Enhanced Comprehension and Retention: Summarizing forces students to actively process information, identify key points, and rephrase them in their own words. This mental effort, as shown in studies by Doyle (2001) and Dunlosky & Rawson (2017), strengthens understanding and memory encoding, allowing students to retain information for longer.
  • Improved Critical Thinking and Analysis: By condensing information and focusing on the main ideas, summarizing requires students to critically evaluate the text and distinguish between essential and non-essential details. This fosters critical thinking skills crucial for success in various academic and professional settings, as emphasized by Willingham (2009).
  • Boosted Communication and Writing Skills: Effective summarizing requires clear and concise communication, as students need to convey the main points accurately and succinctly. This translates into improved writing skills, as highlighted by S. Graham (2019), as students learn to express themselves effectively and efficiently.

What is the Chalk Talk Strategy?

The “Chalk Talk” strategy is a simple yet engaging activity that can be used across various subjects to foster deeper learning and encourage diverse perspectives. A dynamic and active learning strategy, it can be adapted for various purposes, including:

  • Activating Prior Knowledge: Introduce a new topic by having students share their existing knowledge on the board before diving into new information. This sets the stage for building upon existing understanding.
  • Formative Assessment: Gain insights into student understanding throughout a lesson by using “Chalk Talk” as a quick check-in tool. This allows for immediate adjustments to teaching strategies based on student needs.
  •  Structured Review: Use for Retrieval Practice from a unit, or even a course of study.

How to Facilitate Chalk Talk – Teacher Guidelines:

  • Pose a Thought-Provoking Question: Write a central question or statement on the board, aligning with the lesson objective.
    • Example (Science): “How does the water cycle impact the environment?”
    • Example (History): “What were the key turning points of the American Revolution?”
  • Set Time Limits: Allocate 5-10 minutes for the activity, adjusting based on the complexity of the question and student experience.
  • Manage Participation: Students will come to the board to respond. Limit the number of markers available to control the number of students writing simultaneously.
  • Facilitate the Discussion: Observe the student interaction, challenge their thinking by responding to their statements, and highlight key points emerging from the “conversation” by:
    • writing your own questions in response to the students’ statements
    • circling key points that come out of the conversation
  • Wrap Up and Reflect: Acknowledge the completion of the activity and use the student-generated responses to gauge their comprehension and guide subsequent instruction.

Student Procedures for More Effective Chalk Talk:

  • Maintain Silence: This is a silent “conversation” where students communicate through writing.
  • Building on Ideas: Use arrows to connect your thoughts to classmates’ responses, creating a visual dialogue.
  • Respond to the Prompt: Focus your writing on addressing the central question or statement.
  • Contribute When Ready: Participate when you feel comfortable, knowing that the environment is safe for diverse perspectives.
  • Engage Actively: Read and reflect on your classmates’ contributions, enriching the overall discussion.

Silent Discussion Examples Across Content Areas:

Mathematics: After a lesson on solving equations, pose the question: “What are the key steps involved in solving linear equations?” Students can use “Chalk Talk” to collaboratively share and refine the essential steps for solving equations. This not only summarizes the key concepts but also allows students to identify and clarify any misunderstandings.

Science: Following a discussion on the water cycle, ask: “Explain the main stages of the water cycle in your own words.” Students can use “Chalk Talk” to brainstorm and build upon each other’s ideas, creating a comprehensive overview of the water cycle. This allows for a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of the various stages.

History: After studying a historical event, pose the question: “What were the significant causes and consequences of the event?” Students can use “Chalk Talk” to discuss different perspectives and collaboratively summarize the key factors contributing to and resulting from the event. This encourages students to think critically and consider the multifaceted nature of historical events.

English: After reading a poem, students can use “Chalk Talk” to summarize the main themes and literary devices used by the author. This activity encourages them to analyze textual elements, identify central ideas, and communicate their understanding concisely.

Adaptations for Younger Students:

Summarizing is an essential learning strategy for all grades and ages if it is approached using developmentally appropriate methods. Visuals and building background knowledge are essential for ensuring Chalk Talk is successful when used with younger students. 


  • Question: “Can you show us the steps we take to solve a math problem like this one?” (Write a simple equation on the board).
  • Activity: Students take turns drawing pictures or symbols to represent each step of solving the equation. For example, a balance scale for balancing the equation, arrows for moving numbers, and checkmarks for the final answer.


  • Question: “Let’s draw a picture together that shows what happens to a water droplet on a sunny day!”
  • Activity: Students take turns adding elements to a large water cycle illustration on the board. Start with a sun and a puddle, then add clouds, rain, plants, etc. Discuss each stage as they add it.


  • Question: “Imagine you’re a time traveler! What did things look like before (historical event) happened?” (Draw a simple “before” scene on the board).
  • Activity: Students take turns adding details to the scene on the board to show what caused the event. Then, erase some elements and brainstorm what happened afterward.


  • Question: “This poem made us feel (happy, sad, etc.) Let’s draw pictures that show why!”
  • Activity: Students brainstorm words or phrases that describe the main ideas of the poem. Write them on the board. Then, students take turns drawing pictures or symbols that represent those words to create a visual summary.

For more ideas on how to summarize with young students, check out our article Retell, Recount, and Summarize.  And, join us this summer for our Accelerate Learning with Writing and Accelerate Learning with Vocabulary events for how to use these strategies to support student summarizing. 

Chalk Talk Instructional Questions to Consider

  • How can you use Chalk Talk to create a group summarizing activity, where all students are accountable for contributing to the learning?
  • What types of questions would provide the right amount of openness, while maintaining an alignment to the lesson’s Learning Goals?
  • What types of questions would allow you to adapt Chalk Talk for a variety of purposes (i.e., Formative Assessment, Activating Strategy, Structured Review)?
  • How can you adapt the activity to support students who may struggle with writing responses or connecting ideas?
  • What topic can you use to preview the activity to ensure students understand the expectations (i.e., simple example, picture, video, etc.)?

Final Chalk Talk Tips – Actions to Take

  • Design a tracking system to ensure all students participate.
  • Practice sketching how to connect ideas that you anticipate students’ sharing. What will you do to keep the connections clear and organized?
  • Determine how you will reinforce student behavior to ensure that the conversation remains silent.


Doyle, W. K. (2001). Synthesis of research on summarizing as a learning strategy. Educational Psychology Review, 13(2), 181-211.

Dunlosky, J., & Rawson, K. A. (2017). The forgetting curve and how to overcome it. Learning and Perfomance Magazine, 36(1), 14-17.

Willingham, D. T. (2009). Why don’t students like school? A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom. Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

Graham, S. (2019). Changing How Writing Is Taught. Review of Research in Education, 43(1), 277-303.

Lindsey Hampton

During her 20+ years in education, Lindsey has been an elementary and secondary classroom teacher, an instructional coach, and a specialist in teacher induction. She has collaborated with teachers and administrators nationwide to develop learning partnerships that focus on evaluating and implementing High Yield Instructional Strategies. Her instructional coach and specialist background have led her to the philosophy that improvement must be viewed as a continuum, a means to refine and adapt the improvement of instructional practices continually. She has presented this theme and many others on teaching and learning at numerous conferences in FL, KY, TN, NC, and PA. Her contributions to Learning-Focused include developing new resources and workshops, providing leadership and instructional training and coaching.

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