The Native Americans used talking sticks during tribal meetings to designate who was allowed to speak. Whoever held the talking stick had the right to speak, and all others present were to listen silently. Many elementary teachers employ the talking stick to teach children to take turns speaking and listening. The talking stick can be an effective classroom management tool.
Classroom management during whole-class discussions can get complicated when students begin to talk out of turn. Using a talking stick allows the teacher and the students to know whose turn it is to speak, and signals to others it is their turn to listen. Sitting students in a circle or semi-circle allows all participating children to see who has the stick. The talking stick can be employed during circle time, show and tell, and during brainstorming sessions. Another advantage of the talking stick is that students who might not want to speak can pass on their turn by handing the stick to the next person.
When two or more students experience conflict, it can be difficult to get them to talk calmly about the issue. By using a talking stick, students know that they each will have a turn to tell their side of the story. The teacher can act as a mediator, and should explain to the students that the person who holds the talking stick should be listened to with respect. When each person has had a chance to talk about the issue, they can continue passing the stick back and forth if they want to continue the discussion. The talking stick eliminates the likelihood of more than one person speaking at once and an argument breaking out.
Reading aloud in class can be daunting to some students. The use of the talking stick can prepare students for reading, by allowing them to know when their turn is coming and giving them a prop to use as support. Have one student begin reading a selection, and when he finishes, he can pass the stick to the student beside him. Each student can read as little as one sentence, or as much as a paragraph. If a student chooses not to read, he can pass the stick along. Encourage reluctant readers to at least try one sentence when their turn arises. The use of more than one talking stick during reading can teach choral reading skills. Students can practice reading together when they have their sticks.
Talking sticks can be used to inspire creativity in students. Students who have the stick can share stories with their classmates. Then they can pass on the stick to another student who has a creative story to share. Another variation of creative storytelling is to have each student build on the story. One person begins the story, then passes the stick along, and the next student adds a sentence to continue the story. Continue adding to the story until each student has had a chance to add their idea. The teacher can act as a recorder, writing each student's sentence on large chart paper to create a class story.
Making a Talking Stick
Making a talking stick to be used in your classroom can be an educational project for your students. Students will learn the purpose of the stick and can participate in creating a stick to be used during class discussions. Put students in pairs to work on this project together. Provide each pair of students with a six-inch wooden dowel, colorful ribbons, beads, feathers and some leather cord. The students can wrap the ribbon around the dowel, and use tape or glue to secure the ends. On one end of the dowel, tie the piece of leather cord, letting the ends hang down loose. Decorate the cord with beads and tie a knot to the end of the cord to keep the beads in place. Tape feathers to the ends of the leather cord, and to the other end of the talking stick. Keep finished talking sticks in an accessible spot to be used during class discussions and reading circles.