How to talk to students about art and culture productions

In this article Beate Børresen talks about tools and strategies for structured talk or dialogue and explains how this can contribute to greater interest and participation from students. Such talks can also result in valuable feedback on productions, for producers and performers.

Beate Børresen is a professor emerita at the Faculty of Education, Oslo Metropolitan University. Børresen has a degree in history of ideas and has worked in teacher education for 30 years. For the last 20 years she has worked specifically on philosophy with children, oral skills and talk in the classroom. She has been involved with The Cultural Schoolbag in Norway since 2005, among other things she has developed material for talks connected to various productions.

Dialogues for feedback and deepening

A well prepared and structured dialogue or talk about art and culture productions can contribute to a lasting impression and provide a good basis for thoughts and experiences.
Such talks serve multiple purposes. They are intended to provide feedback on the students’ experience of the production and offer an opportunity to expand, develop, and deepen their experience, as well as potentially reduce any sense of alienation towards unfamiliar artistic expressions. Therefore, the talks should be an integral part of what’s presented to the students. 

Such talks can also help strengthen cooperation with schools and the educational system, as art productions are linked to topics and questions the students are working on. In addition, these talks can inspire teachers who want help with methodology regarding oral skills and critical thinking. 

Talks with students can be challenging, but they can be done effectively through preparation, structure and some simple strategies or moves. The structure and moves presented here, are intended as guidelines or advice. 

The following advice is based on years of experience with talks in a classroom setting. The idea is that the advice can be used to help develop your own style. Following the structure and moves to the letter can be helpful in the beginning. As you become more confident in form and content, it will be easier to adapt the material according to your own preferences and circumstances.

Dialogue or talk in science and education

Dialogue or talk has been an important method in science and teaching since ancient times. Because individuals rarely reach knowledge alone, it is necessary to work together by sharing ideas and understanding, and develop these with other people. In pedagogy, the starting point is that students are not passive recipients of the teacher's knowledge but actively contribute to their own understanding and learning.

To learn, students must reflect. To reflect, they must articulate what they know, believe, understand, and do not understand. They do this best by talking - to others and with others.

Such talks have their own form, characterized by planning, concentration, investigation, and leadership. This sets them apart from what is usually associated with classroom talk, namely exchange of opinions and discussions. The point is to use differences and disagreements among participants to delve deeper into and clarify what is difficult or unclear. Such talks are often called exploratory or learning talk.

Structure of the talk

This type of talk, as mentioned, is characterized by structure and leadership. The goal is to engage all students and help them move beyond mere exchange of opinions. Since it is clear what the students shall do and why, it is easier to concentrate and get more out of the work. For this to work optimally the talk should be prepared, both with regards to content and form.

What the structure looks like:

  • The students are presented with a task in the form of questions they shall answer or statements they shall take a stance on, with reasoning. The task should be on a piece of paper, with space to write.
  • Give the students a set amount of time to complete the task. 
  • Choose one student to start the talk and ask that person to read their answers and reasoning. 
    The student reads her answer and reasoning and the teacher writes it on the board. Read more under “Deciding who shall speak”.
  • Everyone should assess whether the reasoning is good or if it can be improved. For example, consider if it can be expressed more clearly, if it is plausible or true, and if it is relevant. The students are not supposed to say whether they agree or disagree with the reasoning but explain why it is good or how to help improve it, for example by altering words or providing examples 
  • When the first contribution has been developed, a new student is chosen, and the work process is repeated. 
  • The talk ends with a round of “final words” or a meta-talk – a talk about the talk – where the students answer questions like «What have we learned?», «What was difficult?», etc.


If the students are asked to write down something that was good, exciting, bad, or similar in thinking time, this can be collected in rounds. This form is useful when collecting students’ evaluations of a production. 

  • Choose a student to start the round by reading their answer, for example something that was good. Write the answer on the board, under the headline «Something that was good».
  • The student next to the first one continues, and the round goes on until everyone has answered. Avoid repetition of what’s already on the board, instead have the student say «Pass» or «Same as [student name]».
  • The next list, for example, about something that was bad, or something learned, goes in the opposite direction. It starts with the person who was the last in the previous round. Read more under Distribution of the Word.


Such talks are improved with preparation. A plan to lean on helps the leader of the talk or facilitator feel safe and it’s easier to engage the students when the assignment is thoroughly planned out.

How to make assignments

  • Determine whether the students shall focus on providing feedback on the production or if they shall also work on the content.
  • Choose what the students should assess or which topic is addressed in the production.
  • The questions/statements in the form of questions should be clear and concise, preferably not containing "not" or "can," and shouldn't be leading.
  • Questions that require a yes or no answer along with a justification work best. Statements that students evaluate by agreeing or disagreeing while providing reasoning also work well. Such tasks make it easier to initiate a discussion by tallying yes and no or agree and disagree. Finally, 
    you can take a count to see if anyone has changed their mind. This creates liveliness in the dialogue.
  • The tasks should be challenging enough that students have to think to come up with answers, and they should have the opportunity to provide their own, possibly negative, feedback.


  • What was good in [the name of the production]?
  • What was bad or could have been better?
  • What did you learn? Write down something you learned.
  • Write down something you heard that you haven't heard before, or something you saw that you haven't seen before.

Examples of statements based on certain themes:

  • Boys are stronger than girls.
  • You always know when you’re in love.
  • You have to like your brother or sister
  • Can you know what others feel?
  • How do you know what is right?
  • We need rules to know what is right.
  • Children should do what adults say.
  • You must not cut down trees.
  • Peace is the absence of war.
  • Theatre is art.

These tasks are placed on a sheet with space to write. Learn more under “Log sheets”.

How to make a schedule

  • Usually, you have a school lesson, which is around 45 to 60 minutes, with shorter durations for the youngest students. You can find more details under “Small children”.
  • Determine and note how much time each point should take.
  • Keep the schedule and a watch in front of you during the talk.
  • Use your time wisely. Don't have a lengthy introduction with many instructions. This is to prevent students from being more focused on what you want than on their own thoughts. 
    Briefly introduce yourself and state that the students shall help improve the production by sharing their ideas and thoughts.

Strategies or moves

The purpose of these techniques is to get more and better feedback than what typically emerges from more spontaneous question-and-answer sequences. This way of working helps more students to have their say and creates opportunities for greater diversity in what is said.

Log sheet

The tasks that students will work on should be presented on sheets with space for writing. Such a sheet is called a log sheet because it is structured in accordance with the progression of the talk. It helps to structure and keep a log of students' work. 

When the purpose of the conversation is to get feedback from the students, a log sheet works especially well. It provides access to thoughts and ideas that may not surface during the talk since you can collect the sheets and review them afterwards.

How to create and use log sheets

  • Write the name of the production and the date at the top.
  • Include headings that follow the structure of the talk:
    1. Question, statement, or both questions and statements.
    2. Thinking time.
    3. Take a position if you're going to tally yes/no, agree/disagree.
    4. Talk
    5. Meta-talk.

  • Enter two to three questions or statements on each log sheet, leaving one to two lines per task for writing. This encourages students to be concise.
  • You can use prompts like Yes/No, because..., Agree/Disagree, because... to help students justify their responses.
  • Include 1 to 2 meta-questions with a line for each question and a line for the answer.
  • Distribute one log sheet to each student.
  • Students shouldn't put their names on the log sheets.
  • Read the tasks aloud. Ask if anyone doesn't understand. Clarify any issues and misunderstandings.
  • Let students work on the tasks during a short thinking time. Explain that they don't have to answer "correctly," but should write what they think and believe. Learn more under "Thinking time".
  • Finally, give the students another thinking time to answer the meta-questions.
  • If there's time, listen to the answers to the meta-questions. The most important thing is that the students have completed the log sheets so you can read them afterward. Learn more under "Deciding who shall speak ”.
  • Collect the log sheets at the end.

Examples of meta-questions:

  • What have we learned?
  • What have we learned about... (insert a topic from the production or talk)?
  • What was difficult?

Thinking time

Having time to develop responses and justifications through writing makes it easier to express clear ideas and answers, and to remember your thoughts. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for more students to participate. When something is written down, it becomes easier to express. 
A common thinking time also ensures that all students are engaged in the tasks. Furthermore, there's often greater diversity in what is presented, as students read out what they thought, resulting in less conformity and fewer "safe" answers.

The fact that the thinking time is short emphasizes that students do not need to find a correct or perfect answers but should write down some initial thoughts.

  • Give clear and short instructions on what students should do during the thinking time.
  • Clearly announce when the thinking pause starts and its duration.
  • Keep track of the time.
  • Finally, ask if anyone needs more time. If yes, they can have a maximum of 30 seconds.

Deciding who shall speak

When thinking time is finished and you have potentially tallied up yes/no or agree/disagree, the talk starts with a student reading out what he or she has written.

  • Choose a student at random using a die. There are dice with different numbers of sides available, with the most common ones having 12 or 20 sides. These can be purchased at game stores or online. There are also online dice apps, known as random generators or 
  • For the use of dice to work, students must have a number. Let them count up in a round, and ask them to note or remember their number. If there are more students than there are sides on the die, count another round to allow some students to get the same number. In this case, both students may speak, or the one who has spoken less or has something important to say gets the floor.
  • A counting round also serves as a warm-up, engaging all students and getting them to use their voices.
  • When students are to present what they think is good, bad, etc., you should have a round where you collect lists of answers without discussing them.
  • Roll the die - the number determines which student starts. They read out, preferably only one or a few words. The facilitator writes the answer on the board. Then, pass the word to the student sitting next to them, and repeat this until everyone has had a turn.
  • Students should not repeat something already on the board. If they have thought the same thing, they should either say "pass" or "I have the same as... [name].".
  • The next round starts with the student who had the last turn.
  • If you want to have a third round, use the die again.
  • The die should only be used after students have had thinking time.
  • An alternative to using a die is to draw slips with the students' names on them.

Of course, students should also have the opportunity to raise their hand or be asked to speak by the fascilitator, especially if a student's body language indicates they have something to say, disagree, or similar.

Writing on the board

Writing what students say on the board helps everyone remember what has been said. This is a key point since we are interested in students' experiences, opinions, and advice. Having what has been said written down also makes it easier to help students stay on topic. The facilitator can point to what's on the board and ask, 'Are you talking about this?' 'Do you have an example of this?' 'Who agrees with this?' and so on.

Writing what is said on the board, helps acknowledge the student’s thoughts. It shows them that what they say is important. Many students gain confidence from having what they say written down, as it confirms that it is not 'wrong' or 'stupid.’

  • Write the theme and the date for the talk at the top of the board. This makes it easier for you to refer back to the documentation later.
  • Write what each student reads out after the thinking time and the other students' reactions to it. You can optionally include the students' names in parentheses.
  • Do not erase if someone changes their mind, something changes, etc. Instead, mark it with an 'X.' This way, you can remember the flow of the talk, what you agreed on, what you disagreed on, what you improved, and so on.
  • Remember to take a photo if you need to erase due to lack of space.
  • If there are two of you, one can write on the board while the other facilitates the talk.
    Alternatively, you can ask the class teacher for help.
  • If you are tallying – yes/no/agree/disagree – write the counts right below or next to the task.
  • Write what students say exactly as they say it. Do not use abbreviations or rephrasing.
  • If you need to expand on something a student says, write comments, objections, examples, etc., near the original statement, using lines and arrows if necessary.
  • Remember to take a photo of the board. You can let the students see that you are doing it, which gives them confirmation that they are important. Having a photo of the board helps remember and summarize what the students have said and done.

How to engage the students

Not everyone can have the floor during a talk lasting around 45 minutes, except if you collect individual words or statements in rounds. Nevertheless, everyone should be engaged.

  • Engage the students by having them all complete a written task in the initial thinking time.
  • After the thinking time, have the students show their position by standing up. First, those who agree with the statement or have answered 'yes' to the question should stand up. Write the number on the board. Then, those who disagree or have answered 'no' should do the same.
  • Students can also express their positions by standing under signs. Create two to four signs, depending on the number of students and the complexity of the production. Hang them on the wall or place them on the floor. The signs can have general statements like: 'The [name of the production, something in the production...] was fun.' 'It was boring.' 'It was interesting.' Or more specific statements related to events or themes.
  • Select a few students to explain why they are standing where they are.

For young children

In this context, young children are defined as students aged 5 to 8, which means students in grades 1 to 3. At this age, most children have difficulty concentrating for long periods, listening to each other, as well as writing and reading.

  • Therefore, the dialogueshould be shorter and faster. This means a total of around 20 minutes, with thinking time lasting no more than 30 seconds.
  • It can be helpful to have a dialogue with only half of the class, should you choose to do so. In that case, it should be a randomly selected half, not just the "high-achieving" students chosen by the teacher.
  • The facilitator should use fewer words and provide fewer explanations.
  • Students should have the opportunity to move, as described above, but only using pictures or one to two words on a poster.
  • Even though the students may have limited reading ability, it's important to write what is said on the board. This is primarily for the sake of remembering, but also to emphasize that what the students say is important.
  • It can be helpful to write individual student statements in different colors. You may find that students say things like 'I agree with the blue one' or 'I have an example for the pink one.’

Concept cards

Concept cards are cards with pictures, drawings, or one to two words. The images and words can relate to assessment in general. The cards may include words like good, fun, boring, strange, etc., or they can pertain to events and themes in the production.

  • Have three to five cards. Show them to the students and explain what they depict or read the words on them.
  • Spread the cards out on a table or on the floor where everyone can see.
  • Give the students some time to think and find a card that represents their thoughts.
  • Use a die to choose a student who will start.
  • The student picks up one of the cards and explains how they have been thinking or in what way it relates to the performance.


  • Write down things the students have said, your own impressions, and thoughts as soon as possible after the talk.
  • Revew the photos of the board and the log sheets.
  • Reflect on which tasks engaged the students, whether anything should be explained more clearly, rephrased, omitted altogether, and so on.
  • Consider your own role as facilitator. What worked, and what didn't?
  • Create lists of what needs to be changed for the next time, both in terms of the content on the log sheets and your facilitation.
  • Remember that not all such talks go well. There can be many reasons for this, such as students being tired or not used to talking with each other, in addition to your own lack of attentiveness or time management. It's important not to lose heart.
  • Tasks that work well in one class may not work as well in another.

Information about the project

Project Student Participation was one of the three sub-projects in Arts for Young Audiences Norway's development project The Cultural Schoolbag – school (2018-2020). One of the project's pilot efforts aimed to develop a method for dialogue-based evaluation and feedback on productions touring in The Cultural Schoolbag. The project partners were The Cultural Schoolbag administrations in Viken, Oslo, Trondheim, Bergen, Rogaland, and Asker, under the leadership of Gustav Jørgen Pedersen and Bente Aasheim from Arts for Young Audiences Norway.

Beate Børresen was engaged as a lecturer in the initial phase of the project. After meeting with Børresen, the project partners wanted to use her work as a basis for their further development work. Børresen was thus involved in the project as a mentor.

The Tool Sheet for Evaluation and Feedback on The Cultural Schoolbag Productions describes the project partners' experiences in planning and implementation and contains advice for others who want to try it. It is recommended to read both Børresen's article and the tool sheet.

The project has also developed additional resources for the method in the form of a film and a professional article about assessment in schools. Both are available on Arts for Young Audiences Norway's resource pages.

Publisert: 23.02.2023 Oppdatert: 25.06.2024 kl.12:54