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When I worked with student teachers on developing effective lesson plans, one thing I always asked them to revise was the phrase “We will discuss.”
We will discuss the video.
We will discuss the story.
We will discuss our results.
Every time I saw it in a lesson plan, I would add a note: “What format will you use? What questions will you ask? How will you ensure that all students participate?” I was pretty sure that We will discuss actually meant the teacher would do most of the talking; He would throw out a couple of questions like “So what did you think about the video?” or “What was the theme of the story?” and a few students would respond, resulting in something that looked like a discussion, but was ultimately just a conversation between the teacher and a handful of extroverted students; a classic case of Fisheye Teaching.
The problem wasn’t them; in most of the classrooms where they’d sat as students, that’s exactly what a class discussion looked like. They didn’t know any other “formats.” I have only ever been familiar with a few myself. But when teachers began contacting me recently asking for a more comprehensive list, I knew it was time to do some serious research.
So here they are: 15 formats for structuring a class discussion to make it more engaging, more organized, more equitable, and more academically challenging. If you’ve struggled to find effective ways to develop students’ speaking and listening skills, this is your lucky day.
I’ve separated the strategies into three groups. The first batch contains the higher-prep strategies, formats that require teachers to do some planning or gathering of materials ahead of time. Next come the low-prep strategies, which can be used on the fly when you have a few extra minutes or just want your students to get more active. Note that these are not strict categories; it’s certainly possible to simplify or add more meat to any of these structures and still make them work. The last group is the ongoing strategies. These are smaller techniques that can be integrated with other instructional strategies and don’t really stand alone. For each strategy, you’ll find a list of other names it sometimes goes by, a description of its basic structure, and an explanation of variations that exist, if any. To watch each strategy in action, click on its name and a new window will open with a video that demonstrates it.
Higher-Prep Discussion Strategies
Gallery Walk >
a.k.a. Chat Stations
Basic Structure: Stations or posters are set up around the classroom, on the walls or on tables. Small groups of students travel from station to station together, performing some kind of task or responding to a prompt, either of which will result in a conversation.
Variations: Some Gallery Walks stay true to the term gallery, where groups of students create informative posters, then act as tour guides or docents, giving other students a short presentation about their poster and conducting a Q&A about it. In Starr Sackstein’s high school classroom, her stations consisted of video tutorials created by the students themselves. Before I knew the term Gallery Walk, I shared a strategy similar to it called Chat Stations, where the teacher prepares discussion prompts or content-related tasks and sets them up around the room for students to visit in small groups.
Philosophical Chairs >
a.k.a. Values Continuum, Forced Debate, Physical Barometer, This or That
Basic Structure: A statement that has two possible responses—agree or disagree—is read out loud. Depending on whether they agree or disagree with this statement, students move to one side of the room or the other. From that spot, students take turns defending their positions.
Variations: Often a Philosophical Chairs debate will be based around a text or group of texts students have read ahead of time; students are required to cite textual evidence to support their claims and usually hold the texts in their hands during the discussion. Some teachers set up one hot seat to represent each side, and students must take turns in the seat. In less formal variations (which require less prep), a teacher may simply read provocative statements students are likely to disagree on, and a debate can occur spontaneously without a text to refer to (I call this variation This or That in my classroom icebreakers post). Teachers may also opt to offer a continuum of choices, ranging from “Strongly Agree” on one side of the room, all the way to “Strongly Disagree” on the other, and have students place themselves along that continuum based on the strength of their convictions.
Pinwheel Discussion >
Basic Structure: Students are divided into 4 groups. Three of these groups are assigned to represent specific points of view. Members of the fourth group are designated as “provocateurs,” tasked with making sure the discussion keeps going and stays challenging. One person from each group (the “speaker”) sits in a desk facing speakers from the other groups, so they form a square in the center of the room. Behind each speaker, the remaining group members are seated: two right behind the speaker, then three behind them, and so on, forming a kind of triangle. From above, this would look like a pinwheel. The four speakers introduce and discuss questions they prepared ahead of time (this preparation is done with their groups). After some time passes, new students rotate from the seats behind the speaker into the center seats and continue the conversation.
Variations: When high school English teacher Sarah Brown Wessling introduced this strategy in the featured video (click Pinwheel Discussion above), she used it as a device for talking about literature, where each group represented a different author, plus one provocateur group. But in the comments that follow the video, Wessling adds that she also uses the strategy with non-fiction, where students represent authors of different non-fiction texts or are assigned to take on different perspectives about an issue.
Socratic Seminar >
a.k.a. Socratic Circles
Basic Structure: Students prepare by reading a text or group of texts and writing some higher-order discussion questions about the text. On seminar day, students sit in a circle and an introductory, open-ended question is posed by the teacher or student discussion leader. From there, students continue the conversation, prompting one another to support their claims with textual evidence. There is no particular order to how students speak, but they are encouraged to respectfully share the floor with others. Discussion is meant to happen naturally and students do not need to raise their hands to speak. This overview of Socratic Seminar from the website Facing History and Ourselves provides a list of appropriate questions, plus more information about how to prepare for a seminar.
Variations: If students are beginners, the teacher may write the discussion questions, or the question creation can be a joint effort. For larger classes, teachers may need to set up seminars in more of a fishbowl-like arrangement, dividing students into one inner circle that will participate in the discussion, and one outer circle that silently observes, takes notes, and may eventually trade places with those in the inner circle, sometimes all at once, and sometimes by “tapping in” as the urge strikes them.
Low-Prep Discussion Strategies
Affinity Mapping >
a.k.a. Affinity Diagramming
Basic Structure: Give students a broad question or problem that is likely to result in lots of different ideas, such as “What were the impacts of the Great Depresssion?” or “What literary works should every person read?” Have students generate responses by writing ideas on post-it notes (one idea per note) and placing them in no particular arrangement on a wall, whiteboard, or chart paper. Once lots of ideas have been generated, have students begin grouping them into similar categories, then label the categories and discuss why the ideas fit within them, how the categories relate to one another, and so on.
Variations: Some teachers have students do much of this exercise—recording their ideas and arranging them into categories—without talking at first. In other variations, participants are asked to re-combine the ideas into new, different categories after the first round of organization occurs. Often, this activity serves as a good pre-writing exercise, after which students will write some kind of analysis or position paper.
Concentric Circles >
a.k.a. Speed Dating
Basic Structure: Students form two circles, one inside circle and one outside circle. Each student on the inside is paired with a student on the outside; they face each other. The teacher poses a question to the whole group and pairs discuss their responses with each other. Then the teacher signals students to rotate: Students on the outside circle move one space to the right so they are standing in front of a new person (or sitting, as they are in the video). Now the teacher poses a new question, and the process is repeated.
Variations: Instead of two circles, students could also form two straight lines facing one another. Instead of “rotating” to switch partners, one line just slides over one spot, and the leftover person on the end comes around to the beginning of the line. Some teachers use this strategy to have students teach one piece of content to their fellow students, making it less of a discussion strategy and more of a peer teaching format. In fact, many of these protocols could be used for peer teaching as well.
Basic Structure: Another great idea from Sarah Brown Wessling, this is a small-group discussion strategy that gives students exposure to more of their peers’ ideas and prevents the stagnation that can happen when a group doesn’t happen to have the right chemistry. Students are placed into a few groups of 4-6 students each and are given a discussion question to talk about. After sufficient time has passed for the discussion to develop, one or two students from each group rotate to a different group, while the other group members remain where they are. Once in their new group, they will discuss a different, but related question, and they may also share some of the key points from their last group’s conversation. For the next rotation, students who have not rotated before may be chosen to move, resulting in groups that are continually evolving.
Basic Structure: Two students sit facing each other in the center of the room; the remaining students sit in a circle around them. The two central students have a conversation based on a pre-determined topic and often using specific skills the class is practicing (such as asking follow-up questions, paraphrasing, or elaborating on another person’s point). Students on the outside observe, take notes, or perform some other discussion-related task assigned by the teacher.
Variations: One variation of this strategy allows students in the outer circle to trade places with those in the fishbowl, doing kind of a relay-style discussion, or they may periodically “coach” the fishbowl talkers from the sidelines. Teachers may also opt to have students in the outside circle grade the participants’ conversation with a rubric, then give feedback on what they saw in a debriefing afterward, as mentioned in the featured video.
Hot Seat >
Basic Structure: One student assumes the role of a book character, significant figure in history, or concept (such as a tornado, an animal, or the Titanic). Sitting in front of the rest of the class, the student responds to classmates’ questions while staying in character in that role.
Variations: Give more students the opportunity to be in the hot seat while increasing everyone’s participation by having students do hot seat discussions in small groups, where one person per group acts as the “character” and three or four others ask them questions. In another variation, several students could form a panel of different characters, taking questions from the class all together and interacting with one another like guests on a TV talk show.
Snowball Discussion >
a.k.a. Pyramid Discussion
Basic Structure: Students begin in pairs, responding to a discussion question only with a single partner. After each person has had a chance to share their ideas, the pair joins another pair, creating a group of four. Pairs share their ideas with the pair they just joined. Next, groups of four join together to form groups of eight, and so on, until the whole class is joined up in one large discussion.
Variations: This structure could simply be used to share ideas on a topic, or students could be required to reach consensus every time they join up with a new group.
Ongoing Discussion Strategies
Whereas the other formats in this list have a distinct shape—specific activities you do with students—the strategies in this section are more like plug-ins, working discussion into other instructional activities and improving the quality and reach of existing conversations.
Asynchronous Voice >
One of the limitations of discussion is that rich, face-to-face conversations can only happen when all parties are available, so we’re limited to the time we have in class. With a tool like Voxer, those limitations disappear. Like a private voice mailbox that you set up with just one person or a group (but SOOOO much easier), Voxer allows users to have conversations at whatever time is most convenient for each participant. So a group of four students can “discuss” a topic from 3pm until bedtime—asynchronously—each member contributing whenever they have a moment, and if the teacher makes herself part of the group, she can listen in, offer feedback, or contribute her own discussion points. Voxer is also invaluable for collaborating on projects and for having one-on-one discussions with students, parents, and your own colleagues. Like many other educators, Peter DeWitt took a while to really understand the potential of Voxer, but in this EdWeek piece, he explains what turned him around.
Backchannel Discussions >
A backchannel is a conversation that happens right alongside another activity. The first time I saw a backchannel in action was at my first unconference: While those of us in the audience listened to presenters and watched a few short video clips, a separate screen was up beside the main screen, projecting something called TodaysMeet (update: TodaysMeet has shut down. Use YoTeach! instead.) It looked a lot like those chat rooms from back in the day, basically a blank screen where people would contribute a few lines of text, the lines stacking up one after the other, no other bells or whistles. Anyone in the room could participate in this conversation on their phone, laptop, or tablet, asking questions, offering commentary, and sharing links to related resources without ever interrupting the flow of the presentations. This kind of tool allows for a completely silent discussion, one that doesn’t have to move at a super-fast pace, and it gives students who may be reluctant to speak up or who process their thoughts more slowly a chance to fully contribute. For a deeper discussion of how this kind of tool can be used, read this thoughtful overview of using backchannel discussions in the classroom by Edutopia’s Beth Holland.
Talk Moves >
a.k.a. Accountable Talk
Talk moves are sentence frames we supply to our students that help them express ideas and interact with one another in respectful, academically appropriate ways. From kindergarten all the way through college, students can benefit from explicit instruction in the skills of summarizing another person’s argument before presenting an alternate view, asking clarifying questions, and expressing agreement or partial agreement with the stance of another participant. Talk moves can be incorporated into any of the other discussion formats listed here.
Whole Brain Teaching is a set of teaching and classroom management methods that has grown in popularity over the past 10 years. One of WBT’s foundational techniques is Teach-OK, a peer teaching strategy that begins with the teacher spending a few minutes introducing a concept to the class. Next, the teacher says Teach!, the class responds with Okay!, and pairs of students take turns re-teaching the concept to each other. It’s a bit like think-pair-share, but it’s faster-paced, it focuses more on re-teaching than general sharing, and students are encouraged to use gestures to animate their discussion. Although WBT is most popular in elementary schools, this featured video shows the creator of WBT, Chris Biffle, using it quite successfully with college students. I have also used Teach-OK with college students, and most of my students said they were happy for a change from the sit-and-listen they were used to in college classrooms.
An oldie but a goodie, think-pair-share can be used any time you want to plug interactivity into a lesson: Simply have students think about their response to a question, form a pair with another person, discuss their response, then share it with the larger group. Because I feel this strategy has so many uses and can be way more powerful than we give it credit for, I devoted a whole post to think-pair-share; everything you need to know about it is right there.
TWO MORE YOU’LL LOVE
Since writing this post, I have learned about two more discussion strategies that teachers are finding to be incredibly effective and powerful for getting students to talk, especially about books and other texts:
The TQE Method >
This protocol has students come up with their own Thoughts, lingering Questions, and Epiphanies from an assigned reading. Teachers who have used this method say it has generated some of the richest conversations they have ever heard from students!
Ongoing Conversations >
This strategy places students into one-on-one conversations, getting them to learn each others’ names better and create a track record of what they talked about. Excellent for classes where you want to assess for discussion and help students get more comfortable with each other.
So what else do you have? I would like to think this is a pretty complete list, but I’m sure more strategies are out there. If you use a discussion strategy that’s not mentioned here, please share it below.
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The division by prep time is helpful, thanks.
These are some great strategies. Not a lot applies to the virtual classroom in science. The online, live classroom is similar to a discussion board. Students talk to each other as well as to the teacher. They can ask questions in the moment and not wait to raise their hand. They can ask privately to each other or the teacher. This is similar to the Backchannel discussion. The class activity is happening alongside the chat discussion.
The Teach-Okay is a great strategy and can apply to all kinds of classrooms. This is a great teach-reteach method that helps to identify in-the-moment misconceptions and provides students the opportunity to help each other in a very positive way.
I agree Dorothy about some of the types of activities described. The on line environment doesn’t allow for many of them. It’s amazing how many students will send a private message to the teacher to ask a basic question or make a comment, the just want to disappear. On the other hand, I think the snowball discussion, affinity mapping and gallery walk are great things we can (and do) use, I just didn’t have a name for them.
Thanks for these strategies. I also like the division based on prep-time.
Have you heard of the Harkness Discussion method? It has helped my ELLs develop critical thinking skills and strengthen their communication skills. Because language is a social experience, using the Harkness Discussion is one of the most effective methods to help ELLs develop their literacy skills.
I wrote about it here AND referenced this page in my article, Jen. THANK YOU!
The thread doesn’t work. I think this is the correct thread:
Thank you for this!
We can use it in the EFL and ESL classroom for Language learning to encourage classroom speaking.
Are these “discussion strategies” for University students, kindergarten students, or are these just fun parlor games? New pedagogy is not better pedagogy. Just try teaching with good questions and leave the unnecessary games for grade school students. God, do professors infantilize their students these days!
I could not agree with you more!
Many of these activities teach life skills that children don’t show strength in, unlike yourself. And i assume your students always respond fashionably to your greatly worded questions. Why debate when jeopardy….
If you actually read the article then you would certainly realise that the strategies are not just “fun parlor games”.
Exactly. How could we possibly think like college students when we’re just lowly, Pubblically empoloyed . . . emplyees
I use silent discussion. Groups of 3-4 write out their thoughts and responses on paper. They read ahead of time and answered questions. I prepared some question cards for the discussion just to get the started and keep them going. What I love is that everyone,even the shy kids get to share ideas and be “heard.” Also, they are forced to practice “listening” because they can’t respond to another if they haven’t “heard”/read what the person has to say.
I agree. Great arrangement by prep time and I like the gallery walk and snowball discussion activities.
Your podcast is no longer refreshing in my Podcasts app. I thought you had taken a break since April! I’ve unsubscribed, deleted all of them, and then resubscribed, and it still won’t show new ones. I really don’t like the new iphone Podcast format. It makes it much harder to find what I want.
Oh no!! That’s awful, Sharee. I wish I knew what was going on or how to help you. If you are on Twitter you may want to send the question out with the hashtag #podcastPD and see if anyone has ideas. You can also tag me (@cultofpedagogy) and I can retweet it for you to try and reach more people.
I just found this: http://apple.stackexchange.com/questions/182046/podcast-app-not-downloading-episodes-to-iphone
Maybe it will help?
Jennifer, your article is so inspiring. I must admit at times I am guilty of being that teacher whose planning shows “discussion after the video”! The thinking routine that we do well in my class are the Gallery walk and the Speed dating (we call it donut talk). But I am so motivated by your article to try different strategies to encourage deeper and meaningful discussions in my class now, that I can’t wait to see it in action! Thank you for sharing your ideas.
Donut Talk!! That is a fantastic name!
So some time has passed since you posted this comment…did you end up trying one of these strategies? How did it go?
Since TodaysMeet shut down- has anyone heard of Mentimeter ?
Hi Alison! Although I’ve not personally used Mentimeter, it looks like a great tool and it’s one that Jenn included in her 2019 Teacher’s Guide to Tech. In the guide, she features YoTeach! as a similar alternative to TodaysMeet. You might want to check that out.
I’m one teacher who writes “students will discuss….” in my lesson plan and end up with fisheye teaching. Thank you for pointing out this blind spot, and I’m ready to do my lesson plans different by adding “students will discuss BY….”. I’m gonna try a variation of the philosophical chairs with the talk moves in my next series of lessons.
That sounds great, Tian. Just that little tweak will force you to make more specific plans. I would love to hear how it goes for you.
What a great list of classroom discussion strategies! I, too, am guilty of asking my students to ‘discuss … with a partner’ on occasion. I’m looking forward to trying out the fishbowl approach as well as the backchannel discussion next week.
I’ve had some success using Wechat to report summaries of discussions back to the class using the voice recording function (similar to the asynchronous discussion above but in class time) and the students found the exercise enjoyable as they could give immediate face to face feedback to each others’ responses.
Thanks for sharing the information about WeChat–I hadn’t heard of it before. It looks a lot like Voxer! Here’s a link for anyone wanting to learn more: http://www.wechat.com/
One of my favorites for empowering students is the Harkness Method, named after a teacher at Exeter Academy where it has been used for years. There are plenty of resources for it on the web.
I have had “Harkness Table” on my list of things to research forever. I didn’t realize there was a specific method associated with it. Thanks for reminding me!
Harkness Discussion has been an anchor in my class and like Peter said has empowered students to be accountable for not what they talk about but how they speak with one another.
I would also look up Spider Web Discussion by Alexis Wiggins…Game changer!
Thanks for sharing Alexis Wiggin’s Spider Web discussion model. I plan to use it in my college classroom this fall!
Definitely. A number of teachers at our school use SPIDER Web discussion. Check it out at http://spiderwebdiscussion.com/
Thanks! I was here to steal some good ideas for my own classes, but it was really nice to stumble across this shout out!
Teaching in a Harkness school more than ten years ago led me to develop Spider Web Discussion, and I still am amazed by its power to transform kids into learning leaders.
I wanted to start SWD. The students in my school are so grade focused. I’m not sure that they’d buy into this method if there’s no “grade” or at least they wouldn’t be likely to give it their best. I realize how sad that statement is, but it’s the culture of the school. So depressing.
Here is a detailed essay on Harkness pedagogy, its historical roots, and philosophical underpinnings. A great piece by Guy Williams of Wellington College (UK).
A Structured Academic Controversy, or SAC, from David and Roger Johnson (cooperative learning, U of MN) positions students on both sides of an issue and encourages consensus building. There are several resources for SAC’s online. Thank you for the wonderful list of strategies!
Jess, thanks for sharing this! I found this article that provides an overview, and it looks like a fantastic format:
Having a class discussion in Mathematics class can be challenging. Students who are not comfortable with Mathematics are not likely to speak up. If you force students to stand and deliver, it can lead to feelings of embarrassment, shame and unnecessary discomfort. So in my search to find new ways to have students discussing Mathematics in Mathematics class I happened upon this podcast.
I planned a lesson with a hybrid of the Gallery Walk and Concentric Circles. The class I choose was a small class of 12 students. I established six stations, each with a different Mathematics question and I held a number of questions in abeyance anticipating that students would complete questions at some of the stations. Each station started off with two students and they were assigned as “A” group or “B” group. After five minutes with a question all of the “A” group students rotated clockwise to the next question in that direction, leaving the B student at the station to explain, discuss and work on the question with their new partner. Any work that had been done remained at the station to allow students to observe the previous students’ work and as a basis for discussion. After another five minutes the “B” group rotated anti-clockwise. So now the student who had arrived at that station in the first rotation was left to explain to the new arrival.
If a pair finished a question correctly, then a new question was placed at that station for the students to work on. As anticipated there were questions that were completed, so having extra questions prepared was critical to the continuity of the work.
During the course of the class there was a lot of discussion and interaction taking place between the pairs. I circulated, observed and answered questions where suitable. I refrained from giving hints or direction, preferring to remind the students that they were responsible for discussing options and working out theories or ideas. At no time did any pair surrender.
As part of the wrap up of the lesson I asked students how they felt about the activity. They unanimously stated that they really enjoyed it and asked for the opportunity to repeat the activity. In response to a request for specifics some of the positive feedback included seeing a wide variety of approaches to problem solving. One student remarked that she saw approaches to problems that were very different from her way of approaching them and she found that she learned a lot from being able to see the other students’ working. They commented that the opportunity to work with more than one student on the same problem was beneficial. Directly related to the idea of encouraging discussion in Mathematics class, students also mentioned that the need to explain to others was helpful to them.
I asked students for ideas on how to improve the experience. They all indicated that they would have liked the class to last longer so that they could spend more time working in this way. Another student said that she would have liked an opportunity to work with students who were in her same group. In other words, none of the “B” group got to work with anyone else in the “B” group. When she mentioned this the other students agreed that it would be better to be able to work with “everyone at least once.”
I love this idea, and I’m so excited to hear about your students’ reactions! There’s so much value in students being able to watch one another problem-solve. I’ve seen this work with reading in Kylene Beers’ book When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do, where the more skilled readers will do “think alouds” while other, less skilled readers observe. The lower-level readers are always surprised by how messy the process is–they believe a good reader just goes straight through, without stopping. I’m sure watching other students solve math problems would have the same enlightening impact. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences here!
Hi B Sarvay and Jennifer, I wanted to start off by thanking both of you for your opinions on some strategies and educational practices that you have actually implemented and seen to be successful. As an undergraduate in secondary math education, I hope to one day teach at the high school level after I finish with my student teaching in the spring of next year. As an aspiring teacher, I’m constantly looking for ways I can improve my teaching because I want to be the best teacher I can for my students (as cliché as that may sound). One thing that I specifically appreciated about your post here was that you actually tried these methods in a math classroom, so now I can see that my desire to do an activity like Jennifer’s idea of Conver-stations actually has a lot of potential for math content. As a student myself, I can try to plan as many lessons as I want, but not having had a true teaching experience yet, I am mainly confined to what I think could work well for my class. Thus I look forward to hopefully being given the chance to use something like this in my future lessons. One thing I did have a question about with regards to an activity like this would be when would be the best time during a unit to give something like this: somewhere in the middle, as a review for an exam, etc? Also, any suggestions you have for new teachers would be appreciated!
What if you have an odd number of students?? Say 13.
Thank you for sharing how you implemented this! I also teach math and appreciate the detail you put into explaining your implementation. I’ll probably try something like this with my college students!
I’m new to listening to podcasts and I felt I have struck gold. I have just listened to two of yours after getting on to the 40 hour group. After holidays it is great to have the fresh mind to be motivated to beginning again. Thanks.
Thank you so much, Louise! I’m thrilled to hear that you are enjoying the podcast. I hope you go back into the earlier episodes and keep listening! Enjoy the club!!
I just used two different discussion techniques for A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I came across through Engage New York resources. One activity was a written conversation and the other was a “world cafe” discussion. I loved it. It was a little tough to make sure the students transitioned smoothly from one station to the next, but they did have engaging conversations and a variety of kids were able to take leadership roles.
I enjoyed this post and will “steal” some ideas. However, several of the strategies you describe come from Critical Friends and other sources. As someone who also does research and development, I would encourage you to acknowledge the hard work of others by citing your sources. Thank you!
Hello Elisabeth. Thanks so much for the tip. I certainly do not mean to avoid giving due credit. I was not aware of the origins of many of these. Would you mind telling me which ones you had in mind? I’m happy to look into their sources if I know which ones you’re thinking of. Thank you!
In the Uk people say ‘pedagogy’ because they are too nervous to find out how to pronounce it and it’s absurdly tolerated out of politeness. No-one says ‘anthropology’ like that, or ‘pharmacology’ or any other word whatsover that ends with ‘ogy’. It’s not accepted, it’s tolerated rather ambivalently. Then sometimes, rarely, people who insist on the hard ‘g’ actually get insistent in the same way that people who drink a lot insist you have a drink. At this point the person being corrected smiles politely and thanks them, and everyone else edges away nervously.
Don’t do it folks. You might as well hang a sign around your neck saying ‘I don’t have a clue, and I don’t even realise it’. It’s ‘pedagojy’.
This cracked me up, Jason. Thanks for contributing!
I teach 6th grade health. How or which one of these could I use for my students since most health issues are pretty black and white for discussion?
I would think one way to apply these in health would be to have students talk about how to apply certain health concepts to their own lives, think of real-world examples of the things you’re teaching, or evaluate how well they are already doing with certain health practices. You could also stop periodically during instruction and have students paraphrase something they just learned in a think-pair-share. Does that help?
Keep in mind that the Teach-Okay method can really apply to any classroom and any activity. If planned right, it can be fast and break up the monotony of the classroom. It will help those kids understand the black/white concepts and help break up misconceptions. You might be surprised what they still think, even after being told. Teaching HS science and biology never ceases and to amaze me.
Another very effective strategy is the World Cafe format. There is a book you can purchase, but there are also many resources on the web. It works well to keep students on task while at the same time allows for the generation of new ideas by reconfiguring the group composition. The trick is for the teacher to come up with an excellent question–one that has no clear answer and that can keep the conversation going for a considerable length of time. I use this technique frequently in my undergraduate nursing and public health classes.
Jean, that sounds great! I found a highly rated book on Amazon about this topic: The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations that Matter. Thank you so much for the recommendation!
Nice list, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing. I just added you on Twitter.
There are a lot of ideas to try to get kids engaged. Some of these activities I could have tried in the traditional class setting, but the groups would have had to be much larger as there were often nearly 30 kids per class. I now teach in the on line environment. I like the ideas of snow ball discussions, students can be in groups, add their ideas and move to the next area. All ideas can then be shared. Affinity mapping and a gallery walk would work as well. Students don’t have to feel the “burden” of speaking or contributing a whole lot. Once they share one idea, their apprehension may lesson and they’ll be more apt to share the next time. Students can see many different topics with which to share and not “hide” in the back row while the teacher dominates the discussions.
Hi Jennifer! This article was my first online podcast I’ve ever listened to, at least related to education. I am a middle school special education teacher and I co-teach in Math, Language Arts and Social Studies. In my US History class, my co-teacher and I are always looking for ways to have good discussions amongst the students, so that they learn and understand the information more in-depth, think critically of decisions which were made hundreds of years ago, etc. We often go the approach of what would be closest to the Socratic Circle, where the students all sit in a circle. However, we haven’t gotten to the point of letting them speak “out of turn”- they pass around a ball/fidget which then the person who catches it, is the only person who gets to speak. It is a little elementary, but we notice our students struggle with handling even just that activity. I really would like to try the speed dating discussion technique sometime- this would be like you said, way more of an intimate conversation and I’m betting more students will open up more on a 1 on 1 basis, rather than whole group. I also like the affinity mapping idea, especially since it is an independent, quiet thinking like activity at first, and then becomes a group discussion and involves teamwork to categorize the sticky notes/answers. Lastly, as a special education teacher, I found that the Talk Moves discussion technique would be extremely beneficial for my special needs students. They really need the structure, especially with knowing how to properly verbalize their sentences aloud, and communicate their thoughts on how to agree, disagree, or challenge others. Thank you for providing such helpful strategies!! I will definitely share these with my co-teachers and am sure we will incorporate some of these into our classes in the near future!
Kenzie, thank you for sharing this! I love hearing how teachers will implement these ideas with their students.
Hi Kenzie and Jennifer, I first wanted to say how much I appreciated both of you contributing certain teaching strategies that have worked for you in the past as alternatives to typical lecture style instruction. I am currently about to finish my undergrad in Secondary Math Education to one day hopefully teach math at the high school level. Given that I am about to begin my student teaching experience in a high school, I am obviously looking extensively for various things I can do within my classroom to both convey the material but also to avoid just giving my “students” (because they are not actually my students yet) the content. While the Socratic Circle may be a bit elementary for my high schoolers, one opportunity that I think could really work are the one on one conversations for them. This could be slightly challenging on a math classroom, but my idea is to maybe implement this as a review session before an exam where students are assigned a problem are they are tasked to explain how they would solve that problem to the student at their particular spot and then you could rotate students around the room so that each student is responsible for teaching each other and then making it more concrete. Given than many of you are very experienced teachers, any advice or suggestions would be very helpful!
I have a question about the Teach-Okay strategy. What happens in between the teacher teaching and the student teaching? How does the teacher know that the students are ready to teach their peers? Does the teacher do more than the basic checking for understanding?
Thank you for this repertoire of discussion strategies! I think its a great summary of tools and it has definitely inspired me to try out new methods in class.
Wanted to ask for your advice on a 40-student classroom. We face the challenge of engaging every student given the constraints of the class size and time. What would, in your opinion, be the best strategy for engaging a class of that size in meaningful discussion?
Thank you v much!
Hi Ian! Quite a few of these would work beautifully with a large class, because they offer many students the opportunity to talk at the same time, rather than waiting for one student to talk at a time. I would say Gallery Walk, Conver-Stations, Concentric Circles, and good old Think-Pair-Share will give lots of students a chance to have meaningful discussions.
Hi Jennifer, I am going to be going into my Student Teaching soon and then hopefully into a career teaching Math at the high school level and I really enjoyed reading all of the possibilities there are for alternative classroom management other than having the teacher be the focal point of the room. One of the strategies that I thought could be really interesting was to have Conver-Stations in a Math class where students could be in groups of 4-6 and, perhaps as a chapter review, each student could be assigned a different but related problem form that chapter. Then, after every rotation in Conver-Stations, each student has to teach their group the problem they have been assigned in order to better solidify their understanding of the problem. This sounds good as an aspiring teacher, but opinions from experienced teachers as to whether you think this may work would be very appreciated!
I’m midway through a graduate thesis on developing a rubric to comprehensively address all the elements of a conversation, and these formats are going to be really, really useful. Do you know of articles that describe research on any of them, particularly the low-prep ones?
Gene, off the top of my head, I can’t refer you to any research on any of these, but I’m sure it exists. If I happen to come across anything, I’ll link to it here.
Or any published sources that inspired this?
I just stumbled across your site and have been bingeing on the podcasts. They’re wonderful! One thing you might want to include in an update on conversation in your “high prep” category are two types of debates: one is a formal debate like you’d have on a debate team, and the other is a debate modeled after presidential debates in which a moderator (me at the beginning of the year, confident students who need a challenge later in the year) asks questions. Because students will be standing up in front of the class (and usually before a few administrators invited in to judge the debate), they talk a LOT, and very on task, in preparation before the debate, and then, of course, the debate itself involves some back and forth as well. It’s less collaborative and more stressful for the students than Socratic, but those competitive kids just SHINE and love them. (A fun modification is to allow strong students to come back the next year and judge the debate they did the year before. They usually have to miss a class, so have to make up that work, but it’s one of those times when talented students are asking for more work, rather than having it crammed down their throats in the guise of differentiation.) Another word about differentiation and debates: it’s worked well for me to put the groups together with two strong groups debating each other on a question and two weaker groups debating each other on another question, and the groups are made up of mostly homogeneous students. This works well because everyone thinks it’s fair (they know who’s “smart” by 8th and 11th grades, the two grades I’ve taught) and no one sandbags. In fact, I often group like this and the weaker students complain about not being able to sponge off the stronger kids (sometimes right in front of the class, which makes for some awkward hilarity). It’s amazing what weaker students can bring to the table when they can’t rely on stronger kids, but that’s a topic for another day. Thanks again for your work. It’s great!
I’m very much grateful for the great discussion strategies. I was only aware of few strategies like think-pair-share. My scope has widened and deepened. Thanks a lot
I structure my classes as Socratic Seminars with a variation: all of the students type up a three page response to the day’s reading. The only requirement: that it quote and discuss a passage from the day’s reading assignment. The papers are informal and so should not require too much time. Sometimes, I begin discussion by asking three people to read their papers aloud. One suggestion: discussion feels less ephemeral if some kind of record of it is kept on the board or screen. At any point, the class can use this record to summarize the discussion or look for common areas of interest or instead points of disagreement,
Interesting facts apropos this product
I was surprised to not see one strategy I love on here: Quiz-Quiz-Trade (a Kagan structure). The way it works is that each student has a card with a math problem or discussion question or a prompt to retract a concept on it. Then, student A would go up to student B and ask them on whatever is on their card. Student B would then ask Student A their question. Sometimes I’ll have the answer on the back so that they can check it (if it’s something that has a “correct” answer. Then, student A and B trade cards. Student A can go to student C and repeat the process. I usually have students aim to see 5 different people which keeps the conversation moving without repeating cards. It can be higher prep activity where I create the questions or discussion starters, but I also like having the kids create their own. Often in math, their homework assignment might be to write 2 problems or 2 questions on an index card. Then, we use them in class for quiz quiz trade. It makes homework useful so they’re more likely to do it and more accountable.
This is fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing, Amy!
Great list. My own most common structure is to do a roundtable, then pose ‘what did you hear at your table that the whole class should hear?’ It seems to take off the pressure, and people share other student’s comments which is great validation. Also, where possible, I have student volunteers (who have not led a discussion) lead the post-small group part. Students are more interested in helping their classmates instead of waiting for me to say what is right.
I also love Talking Points from the restorative practices movement. See Elizabeth’s post for more info: http://cheesemonkeysf.blogspot.com/2014/07/tmc14-gwwg-talking-points-activity.html
Hi Jennifer- a lot of these sound really great. I can definitely see myself implementing them in my class.
I came across this site as I was searching for resources in the class that had a specific focus on race- I’m looking for activities that can help students discuss race, while reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me”. A few of these can work, but do you know of any other activities or other sources that can help with this? It would be a huge help if possible.
Thank you so much for listening! 🙂
Hi, Rolando! Jenn has a few other posts that could be just what you’re looking for:
A Collection of Resources for Teaching Social Justice (a personal favorite)
3 Tips to Make Any Lesson More Culturally Responsive
Race in the Classroom: There’s a Manual for That
I hope these help!
Debbie from your team recommended that I take a look at this article – great stuff!
I especially find it useful that you’ve broken these down into higher-prep and lower-prep strategies, as we all know it’s easy to be short on time every now and then.
I myself follow the Socratic Seminar Method with a slight twist. I ask participants to write their own question on a piece of paper and then we read them off and majority vote decides which one we will use for the 45-60 minute discussion. This leads to a student-centered focus, but I’ve found even with this method in place people often struggle with getting all participants to engage.
That’s why I’ve written a full guide to what I call The Epiphany Question Method: https://www.aristotlescafe.com/blog/epiphany-question-method/
A 5 step process to super engage participants of all ages that beginner or experienced teachers can use. I’ve utilized it for over 11 years and across 3 continents with wonderful success – if I can do it I know others can as well.
Thanks again for always providing great resources Jen!
This is a great list- lots of techniques I’ve seen used and shared in different places plus some great new ones. I’d add Walk and Talk (give a couple of prompts and send folks out to stroll in pairs either on the track, the playground, or just the sidewalk, depending on ages then debrief the key points from their discussion when the return), and the WASH method by Mike. St. John (https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED438139). I also love the way that multiple methods can be combined to move through different modalities in a discussion. Thanks for this!
I like to use a strategy called ‘silent conversation.’ I write a question or quote on a piece of chart paper and put one at each table. Students at each table select different colored markers and, silently, respond to the prompt, writing their thoughts on the chart paper and responding to each others’ notes as well. I use a different color marker and circulate, asking clarification questions or drawing a smiley face or circling words I think need more focus. In this way, every student’s voice is ‘heard,’ no one dominates the discussion, I can see who needs support and who really gets it, and every student is engaged. There’s no wait time – all students are responding simultaneously. Afterwards, I might ask groups to look for areas of agreement/disagreement, unexpected findings, etc., giving them a chance to talk out loud. Other times groups will share their prompt and some responses (all groups will have a different prompt). This has proven to be a very effective approach. I’ve had colleagues try it across the disciplines, with great success.
This list is great, and the comments add even more! I think the only one I added that may not have been there is the Town Hall format.
I did a book study with some colleagues using Jeff Zweirs and Marie Crawford’s Academic Conversations. Completely changed how I use conversations in class. My juniors held focused, academic conversations lasting 15-25 minutes with nobody of task, and no input from me. They were respectful of other’s ideas and used strong text evidence to support their ideas. It was magic! I had about 8 students in a group and had 3 groups with 3 different questions over the reading. The inside group discussed “Live” as I monitored for a grade, the 2 groups on the outside held a conversation online about the same question. When time was up, a different group came inside to the live discussion and the 1st group then went outside and logged into the discussion online.
Can you please share strategies for young children who can’t write their thoughts
. Mostly in these startegies where children share their thoughts with each other they record their thoughts by writing….
I wonder how 4-5 years olds thoughts can be recorded during these conversations
Hi, Vibha! I’m a Customer Experience Manager with Cult of Pedagogy. Younger kids can talk out an idea and then express it through a drawing. You’ll want to model this — while modeling, be sure to do a think aloud, talking about how your idea matches your drawing; talk about how you can even add a label with 1st letter or a word(s), as well as use arrows and speech bubbles — these options are a way to differentiate. Another idea is to have kids use building blocks or legos to represent an idea and then talk it out to another group. Hope this helps!
Love this list! I just came across GOGOMO by Read It. Write It. Learn it at http://blog.teacherspayteachers.com/survive-squirrel-outside-window-middle-school-teacher-tricks-end-school-year/?utm_source=bronto&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Here%27s+how+to+do+that&utm_content=http://blog.teacherspayteachers.com/survive-squirrel-outside-window-middle-school-teacher-tricks-end-school-year/&utm_campaign=Weekly+Newsletter+%23432+Grade+6-12+05/29/17&_bta_tid=18418169141401968820271650984996552369211578910726121637403247815866967331290004755984489152117079830529288&_bta_c=0dcmt5x3kjzxyy1j2jt9j8hryy3ez
This is a great resource that could spark questions and therefore discussions without fear and risks. It’s worth a review. http://rightquestion.org/education/
Jennifer You are creating a new zone of teacher education.
Are you familiar with ThinkTrix? The strategy gives students back their minds. I have a book with Kagan for teachers on ThinkTrix. Lynda Tredway is familiar with the strategy. Hope to connect with you. your Think Pair Share treatment with the responses was great.
Frank, I had not heard of ThinkTrix until right now. I just looked it up and have found the book. I will definitely put it on my list of things to learn more about. Thanks so much for mentioning it here!
Thanks so much for these great ideas! I have used many of them for years, but these will add to my repertoire. I used Fish Bowl for the first time recently and the students loved it. They immediately asked when we could do it again. Can’t wait to let my 7th graders experiment with these new techniques!
Great list! I was looking to add some new formats and this post definitely fit the bill. I retweeted to my followers also!
Thanks for your list – I got a lot of good ideas from Brookfield and Preskill’s “Discussion Book” https://www.amazon.com/Discussion-Book-Great-People-Talking/dp/1119049717/. Just wish more of these could be used online…
Thanks! It’s very beneficial to get fresh ideas on a variety of ways to open up discussion in the classroom. Jr. High students get bored with too much repetition.
Hello Jennifer Gonzalez
Thanks for the wonderful list of strategies!
As a teacher in Eklavya School Jalandhar, I had faced many problems in the classroom discussion. Your article helped me to improve our discussion and I will share this with a colleague.
This was a great refresher on discussion strategies – lots of entry points for supporting rich conversations amoung students. Also appreciated all the suggestions and links to resources in the comment section. I’ll be sharing your site with my staff and modeling some of these strategies at our next staff meeting. Thank you.
I absolutely LOVE this helpful list of ways students can participate in discussions. I often go to China to practice with students and teachers methods that will allow students to talk and share rather than a teacher oriented class. Every one of these discussion strategies is exemplary! And each strategy was explained brilliantly, in a way everyone can understand and use one or more. The fact that teachers can watch each strategy being used is so incredible, because so many of us are visual and can retain the how-to’s better with seeing students in action. Thank you! Thank you!
Whether in groups or Think/ Pair/ Share, a lot of my students will use discussion as a time to socialize, and then their contributions to the class will be really superficial. I stick to study questions and random calling to try to avoid shallowness but spread out participation beyond the usual suspects. Maybe the school I teach at has something to do with that. I generally have better luck with written responses, so maybe Padlet or Voxer are worth a look.
Yesterday, for the first time, I combined your speed dating/concentric circles discussion strategy with what I call Round the Room Review(big pieces of paper where groups rotate to write facts about what they’ve just read), and it was AWESOME! I was able to see where there were misconceptions and misunderstandings, and some of the discussions within the circles were great! Thank you so much. I was amazed that they were actually talking to each other (about the lesson), and to me! Thank you so much for a great idea!
Thanks so much for sharing this, Dana!
These are terrific and I also really enjoy the comments thread. Agree with Harkness and Spider Web Discussions. I use them both in my undergraduate classes with great success (as well as DBQs). For those who might want to track student participation, check out Equity Maps (an app teachers or students can use on their iPads). I’m also a huge fan of Liberating Structures, a set of 33 ‘structures’ or discussion processes that “engage and unleash” everyone. A few of the Liberating Structures are very similar to ones listed in this post, however there are some really cool ones that I haven’t seen anywhere before, like TRIZ and Troika Consulting (similar to consultancy protocols for students). Here’s a link for those interested: http://www.liberatingstructures.com. A couple people here mentioned online courses. I’m a huge fan of Zoom’s breakout group features to accomplish many of these discussion activities virtually. Thanks again for the terrific post! Discussions are the foundation of engaged, dynamic, inquiry-based classrooms.
Inevitably, the volume of Turn and Talk would increase to a point beyond tolerable by administrators and next door neighbors. Reflecting on the fact that many students need lesson in listening, I adapted T&T to Lean and Listen. All steps are written for the listener, not the talker. So, I say, “Lean in close to your neighbor and listen to his ideas on . . .” The community that is built by placing the focus on listening and not talking has been magnificent. It worked well with my classroom theme of serving others.
The website https://todaysmeet.com/ seems to have shut down FYI 🙂
Thanks, Herb! We were disappointed to hear this — will have to update this in the post. Appreciate the heads up!
I am so motivated by your article to try different strategies to encourage deeper and meaningful discussions in my class now, that I can’t wait to see it in action! Thank you for sharing your ideas.
Of course, the subject of your investigation needs to know how to write an entrance essay for college, and at https://college-homework-help.org/blog/bibliography it is be clearly indicated.
Very interesting and useful information provided in this post. I am presently involved in curriculum writing and the strategies shared are excellent to include for teachers and students. This will develoment a lot of social skills and critical thinking in learners.
Thanks for some great ideas!!
Here’s a discussion strategy that I use often and have found really helpful in my work with children. Some people call it “Exploding Atom” to help kids visualize that they are part of the whole within the activity.
Here’s a video on how to do it: https://dbp.theatredance.utexas.edu/content/exploding-atom
Thanks for your wonderful resources, keep doing what you do!
Thanks for sharing, Amy! This is awesome!
I’m so grateful to have stumbled upon your article, and am so excited to start listening to your podcast. I love all of the discussion strategies you describe and how they incorporate movement around the classroom to allow students to get up from their seat, listen to each other and contribute to the conversation in a more meaningful way. I’m curious about how these strategies would translate to a different audience. I’m an instructional designer working in corporate training, and the majority of my participants are adult learners (a lot of them are 20-30 years old, close to college years). I think a lot of these ideas would translate well, but am wondering if you had any suggestions on ways to adapt these activities, or things I should watch out for in general? Can’t wait to read your thoughts on this!
Emmanuelle, I absolutely think these strategies can be applied to an adult audience. I’ve used many of them with adult English language learners and also with fellow teachers during professional development sessions. As with any teaching environment, you want to make sure you understand the needs of your audience. You’ll want to make sure the discussion strategy you choose makes sense for the content you’re covering in the training. For example, if you have departments engaging in some sort of project, a gallery walk might be a good choice for having them present their projects to smaller groups so that the various departments can learn from one another. I also think it’s important to provide justification for why you are doing something in class for adult students. This is also true when working with kids, but I think it becomes increasingly important when working with adults.
Thank you so much for the great insight, Eric. The information you provided is very helpful.
Thanks a lot for sharing these strategies!
I would like to try the concentric circles a.k.a. Speed Dating technique in one of my classes.
I am thinking of using pictures – I mean they should describe pics to each other – do you think this could work out well?
Hi there, enjoying this post. Something I’ve done with adults and teens is “greeting card” combined with “gallery”. I give them half of a flipchart, have them folded once, then again. On the front of the card they are to draw a picture of themselves as they want to be seen, on the front inside, things they are passionate about, on the back inside–things they want to learn or know about, and on the back they should write “things that others would not guess” about them. You can make up any categories you want; they don’t have to be an introduction icebreaker as I used it.
Very exciting stuff. I do some of these now. I am anxious to try some of the others. I love how engaging and interesting the techniques are to keep students interested. Love, love, love it. Thank You.
I’m in the middle of the ISTE summer academy and lo and behold Cult of Pedagogy turns up! Love it!
Here’s my predicament:
I’m pondering now how to best make my favorite discussion strategies, like Ongoing Conversations or other favorite strategies listed here, work in a digital environment. Ideas so far include:
Synchronous: Breakout rooms
Asynchronous: Padlet, Google Question, shared Google docs/slides/forms
The thing is, my district doesn’t have an LMS beyond Google Classroom with a discussion board, so I’m looking for workarounds. Wish me luck or give me ideas! Either would be appreciated! 🙂
Hi Jordana! I would add Flipgrid, Yo Teach!, Parlay, and possibly Kialo to the list. We wish you luck as well!
The portion that resonated the most for me was telling the kids what would be discussed in advance. That helps the teacher focus on what will be discussed in the face-to-face and gives the students a way to come to class better prepared.
Hi Jennifer, I just want to let you know that I am a big fan of yours. Your thorough, critical topics, and easy to read articles are very valuable. Thank You!
Thank you so much for sharing this feedback! We are so glad that you are finding value in Cult of Pedagogy. I’ll be sure to pass this on to Jenn.
Thank you so much Jennifer for these strategies. Looking forward to trying them in the classroom.
Great strategies to use in the classroom. I have used a few like conversations, pairing and sharing, but look forward to using the others!
These are some great strategies.
Wonderful strategies. I particular like pairing and sharing.
Interesting options for engaging my students. I can see myself using the Chat stations as well as the Socratic Seminar.
This was a great refresher on discussion strategies so many great ideas.
The three class discussion strategies which stood out to me was Pinwheel discussion, Fishbowl Discussion, and Hot seat These methods will be used in my class next year. I can see how my students will be able to actively learn and get involved. Engagement is number for my students’ success and educational growth.
We’re glad you found them helpful Everlene!
Thank you for this compilation! I am struggling this year because our COVID protocols require assigned seats and no movement of classroom furniture (this is on a college campus, for contact-tracing purposes), which forecloses a lot of the discussion techniques I usually rely on (jigsaws, fishbowl, flexible groups). I’d appreciate if anyone could offer thoughts or resources for reducing the fisheye effect under these circumstances.
Hello! I love all of these protocols and think they are so important. Do you have any advice or ideas specific to the science classroom? I teach 3rd – 6th graders and would love more ideas for scaffolding discussion.
Eloise, these protocols can be used in the science classroom for so many activities, whether hands-on investigations, lab work, research, or experiments. The Gallery walk, for example, is a great opportunity for students to investigate what their classmates have been up to, and there are some variations suggested in the post that you can try out. Another one is the Socratic Seminar, in which students can dive deep into a topic related to your unit of study. Once you get comfortable with these strategies, I think you’ll find that you can switch up the content and use them for a variety of purposes. Best of luck!
Good video. I learned a lot strategies from this video. Thank you.
Students really enjoyed the gallery walk. Thank you.
Jenn will be glad to hear that! Thanks for sharing!