In this Author Spotlight, we highlight the work of


Jeff Zwiers talks about the importance of teaching our kids to effectively communicate their ideas through conversation. This school year brings to the forefront the importance and value of talk, connection, and community. If you are looking to cultivate learning experiences that honor authentic communication, then explore the curated resources that will support improving classroom talk.

“Regardless of the topic, students need to adeptly use conversations, whether or not they are ‘academic,’  to overcome a wide range of life’s challenges and to build relationships, empathy, and social skills.”      

~ Jeff Zwiers, 2019

Jeff Zwiers Headshot

“We need our kids to be better than us.”

Jeff Zwiers, Senior Researcher at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, proposes that authentic communication should:

1. Build ideas

“It’s time to let all students build up big cities of ideas in their minds.” ~ Zwiers, 2019

Smaller ideas build up to bigger and bigger ideas.  These ideas can build over days, weeks,  or even years to create a deeper understanding of topics.  Click on the links below to understand  more about building ideas using terms and ideas.

Build Ideas: Brick by Brick Visual Routine

Building Ideas Routine Using Jamboard

Authentic Conversations

2. Clarify and Support

The two main skills used to build up an idea are clarify and support.  Without them, ideas result in weak claims and arguments.  Below you will find a routine to help students build up their thinking.  This routine is a launching point that can be modified to meet the needs of individual classes.

Stronger & Clearer Each Time Routine

Stronger & Clearer Each Time (Video)

3. Fill Information Gaps

Authentic communication occurs when students need to converse with others to learn something new.  Information gaps provide an opportunity to build authentic communication in order to build knowledge.  This activity provides students an opportunity to take a side of an issue and use new vocabulary and syntax to argue and negotiate meaning with a partner. 

Information Gap Cards

Think- Pair-Share Tip Sheet

Additional Resources from Jeff Zwiers

communication effect book cover
next steps with academic conversations book cover
building academic language
academic conversations book cover
Free! Webinar: The Communication Effect: How to Enhance Learning by
Building Ideas and Bridging Information Gaps
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Carey Rhodes is a Project Consultant in the Office of Professional Learning at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit. As a Project Consultant, she works in the areas of literacy and instructional coaching. Carey provides learning opportunities, technical support, and coaching that are interactive, reflective, and strategy-driven to guide participants from theory to classroom practice.

Prior to her serving as a Project Consultant, Carey was an instructional coach, literacy specialist, and secondary classroom teacher. Utilizing her background as an instructional coach and literacy educator, she encourages participants to learn and grow together by reflection in, on, and about instructional practice. Carey believes educators are stewards of learning and need to model for their students that learning never ends. She encourages a mindset of collaborative exploration and challenge. Carey is supportive of sharing our learning journeys in order to build our capacity, construct and clarify our understandings, and shift the teaching and learning experience. She thinks a learning environment that is anchored in an intentional instructional design supports transferable learning and student achievement.

Carey has a Bachelors in Educations from The University of Scranton and a Masters of Education from Cabrini University. She holds Pennsylvania Certifications in English 7-12 and Reading Specialist K-12.

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Sarah Misner is a Project Consultant in the Office of Professional Development at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit. As a Project Consultant, she works in the areas of literacy and English language development and has served in this role since 2012. Sarah provides professional learning opportunities, technical support, and coaching. Some of her areas of focus include:
*Program mentor and instructor for the English as a Second Language Teacher Certification Graduate Program through the MCIU
*Certified trainer of Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS)
*IU point of contact for the Montgomery County ESL Council and Title III Consortium

Prior to serving in this role, Sarah works with students in kindergarten through eighth grade as a reading specialist and as an elementary emotional support teacher. She believes that through looking at the educational research and translating it into practice, we an better meet the needs of ALL learners.

Sarah has a Bachelors in Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a Masters of Education form Arcadia University. She holds Pennsylvania Certifications in Special Educations PK-12, Reading Specialist PK-12, Elementary Education K-6, and Program Specialist English as a Second Language PK-12.

Follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahmisner23