With a drought of instructional time, how can teachers support rich, deep whole-group discussion? Here are a few tips to help purposeful, student-centered discussion flow when class time is limited:
- Have students choose an engaging, high level question that students may work to answer as a group. Try providing a short list of teacher-written/textbook questions or student-written questions from which the group can choose. For example:
- How would you describe the character in the story as a person?
- What were the true causes of the event?
- What is the best evidence that the character made the right choice?
- What is the most important lesson in this story/chapter?
- Why do two characters have a different point of view?
- Once a question is selected for exploration, decide on a time-frame for the group to find the best possible answer. (Example: We have 8 minutes to find the best answer/textual support for this question. Let’s listen, focus, and build on each other’s ideas for 8 minutes and see what answer we find in that time!
- Step out of the middle of the discussion; so that students can call on each other. One student speaks at a time, and students who wish to contribute raise their hands when the student who is speaking has finished his/her thought. Then, the student who finished speaking should call on the next student. Having students call on each other enables the teacher to monitor the discussion, taking notes on who is participating. Or, the teacher may wish to record student points and evidence on the board as students engage in discussion.
- Challenge some/all students to take notes during the conversation and to share the group’s conclusions. (Another idea is for half of the class to discuss one question for a few minutes while the other students take notes/synthesize the discussion. Then, the roles can be reversed.)
- Require students to keep books open while discussing text and cite evidence/page numbers to support their ideas.
Be mindful when turning on the the conversation faucet. With a bit of practice and commitment, student-centered discussions may gush out of just a few minutes of dedicated class time.