Four tips for a brilliant ‘chalk and talk’ lesson

Sometimes you have to go for a pure didactic lesson - but how do you get it right? Ruth Luzmore offers some advice

Ruth Luzmore

Pedagogy: How do you get didactic 'chalk and talk' lessons right?

We’ve all been there: the “computer says no” moment. 

The rising sense of panic as you realise that your flipchart that you spent 30 minutes preparing yesterday evening with your lesson "script" on it isn't working. 

Unease as 30 pupils begin to notice your increasingly desperate tapping at the computer. Muttering begins. 

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You’d call a member of staff to help, but it’s been a few years since there were any spare staff floating around. Pupils are getting bored and the fidgeting is threatening to turn into full-fledged mutiny.  

It’s no good, you’re just going to have to turn around and chalk and talk it.   

But where to begin?

'Chalk and talk': physical presence

Are you creating a physical presence that signals your students to listen to you?  Ask yourself: how am I holding my body? Straighten up, open those shoulders and imagine being pulled up from the crown of your head.

What are you looking at, the floor, the whiteboard or the pupils?  Carefully planned eye contact is a great way of engaging and getting feedback from students. But don’t hold too long or enter into a staring competition with unwitting contestants.

What are your arms doing and what message are they giving? Keep them open rather than folded in front of you (save that for staying warm on playground duty).


Us teachers know a lot and we all want our students to be taught by people who have a depth of knowledge about their subject.  However, expertise can sometimes blind us to what they need in order to follow an exposition.  

What they need is an explanation that creates an accessible way in to a concept that you may know innately, but for them is new and possibly confusing.

Mind your language

Subject-specific language is important and must be taught. Explaining a rotting apple to a group of six-year-olds as the “spontaneous transformation of a relatively unstable particle into a set of new particles” may be technically accurate, but unlikely to yield any great steps forward in their understanding. 

Also important is how you hook this new knowledge on to something they have previously learned.

Some people use metaphor or narrative as a way into the knowledge (we all like a good story), but in your subject or lesson it may be a case of calling into their mind previous lessons or learning from previous years. 

Avoid rabbit holes

Have you got an end goal in mind? A point where you stop talking and they get on with integrating the learning? Try to avoid rabbit hole explanations – detours may be fascinating for you, but try to keep focus on what your pupils need to take in.

Make a note of interesting but not-quite-relevant facts and stories that spring to mind and unleash them on the pupils at the end of the lesson. 

So next time technology fails you, don’t falter; chin up, shoulders back, eyes wide and get talking.

Ruth Luzmore is headteacher at St Mary Magdalene Academy in North London. She tweets @RLuzmore

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Ruth Luzmore

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