Teaching EAL/D learners about accountable talk

Accountable talk

The key principle in teaching EAL/D learners about accountable talk is to make the accountable talk practices explicit. Using the 'ground rules', it is possible to demonstrate different ways of making things explicit for EAL/D learners that can then be adapted for other aspects of accountable talk.

Listening behaviours

  • Tell the class an anecdote with their backs turned away from the teacher. Ask the class how it felt as the listener. Have the students work in pairs and repeat the activity. Discuss with the class the impact of not being able to see the person they are speaking to.
  • Create an anchor chart about the importance of listening and being an active listener. Discuss, model and have students practise active listening behaviours such as nodding, 'interested' facial expressions, and backchannelling sounds (e.g. aha, mmm, etc). Support students’ understanding of the chart content with images of different students demonstrating 'listening' and 'not listening' behaviours.

Making at least one contribution

Create a set of flash cards showing a question mark, a full stop and an exclamation mark for each student. The question mark represents asking a question, the full stop represents the contribution of additional information, and the exclamation mark represents a personal response like 'Great idea!' or 'I agree.’ Distribute the cards to the students and collect the card from each student as they participate in the class discussion. The goal is for everyone to have no cards left.

EAL/D students also benefit from additional support to make a contribution, such as:

  • additional thinking time
  • specific question cues, question words or personal response phrases on display the opportunity to brainstorm questions or statements with a same language peer.

The picture story book Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal illustrates the function of exclamation marks (to indicate a strong personal response and to cue in a change of intonation) in an engaging and highly accessible way.

Listening and contributing to the discussion

Use Lego bricks to demonstrate building on a base. Explain that the purpose of class discussions is to listen to each other and build on each other’s ideas as they learn.

  • Start a shared writing task with a simple statement on a topic that students have been learning together. Students listen carefully and add new ideas that build on this statement, ensuring there are no repeats. Each time a student adds a new idea to the base statement they add a brick to the tower.
  • Scribe what the students say and highlight the conversational gambits that make links with the previous speaker like ' Yes, and they're mammals', 'I know that they eat gum leaves', 'Koalas also ... '.

Asking clarifying questions

  • Distribute sentence strips to small groups of students and ask them to write down phrases and questions they could use if they didn't understand something. Collate the responses.
  • Ask students to order the phrases from most polite to least polite. Unpack what makes a question/phrase polite or impolite.

Expressing disagreement

Expressing disagreement can be socially and culturally challenging for all learners and EAL/D students can be reluctant to express a personal opinion in front of the whole class. By first conducting the activity in pairs and small groups, the students develop and present a final group consensus when they report back, instead of an individual’s position.

To support EAL/D students in expressing disagreement:

  • explore the idea of expressing disagreement from the perspectives of both the speaker and the listener
  • develop a scale of intensity (mildly disagree to strongly disagree) as well as a continuum of politeness to support students in expressing their disagreement
  • create a 'cheat sheet' with sentence and question stems for EAL/D students to refer to during whole class


Rosenthal, A. (2013). Exclamation Mark: Scholastic Press.