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Effective Classroom Discussions (Resources embedded here.)

As the holiday break quickly approaches, many of us are winding down units and bringing students to the end of their learning goals. Often the end of a unit or lesson lends itself nicely to rich classroom discussion.

Here are some tips and suggestions for how to organize effective classroom discussions. Take a minute to view this article from The section titled, "Handy Playbook," gives many practical ideas for front loading discussions and varying the whole-class discussion format. There also are discussion rubrics and ideas for how to balance the level of participation among students.

Discussion in Action

Below is video footage of classroom discussions in Ms. Grinnell's eighth grade language arts class and Ms. Hash's sixth grade language arts class.

What is Seen in Ms. Grinnell's Clip
In the first part of the clip, Ms. Grinnell is modeling for her students what she would like for them to do during their discussion. She and I are modeling discussion etiquette in which we show students how to listen to each other and respond thoughtfully to one another.

What is NOT Shown in the Video
Students are discussing the short story, Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut. Ms. Grinnell is using the "Feedback Fishbowl" seminar method where each inner circle participant is paired with an outer circle coach. The outer circle coaches take notes on their inner circle partner's discussion performance. During designated breaks, the coaches give their partners feedback on areas they need to strengthen in order to have strong participation. Coaches have a rubric to follow. In the video scene, two students act as Ms. Grinnell's coach and my coach.

What is Seen in Ms. Hash's Clip
The second part of the clip demonstrates the Turn and Talk portion of Ms. Hash's classroom discussion. Students have been analyzing a poem by e.e. cummings, "maggie and milly and molly and may," and they are discussing how the author's word choice impacts the reader's understanding of each character.

What is NOT Shown in the Video
Previously, students engaged in whole class discussion in which they substituted synonyms for key words in the poem. Students discussed how the word choice used impacted the readers interpretation of the poem and the characters. Students discussion on this topic eventually led to their analysis of the theme of the poem.

Wrapping Up Your Discussions - Summarization Ideas (Resources embedded here.)

The Edutopia article mentioned above also has ideas for how to wrap up your classroom discussions. The summarization techniques listed here are an easy and effective way to have students reflect on what they have learned in discussion and a way for you to quickly gauge who has grasped the material.

December Tip to Try - 3-2-1 Summarizing Strategy

The 3-2-1 Summarizing Strategy is a quick and easy way for students to summarize what they have learned, what they found interesting, and what they still have questions about.

Typically the 3-2-1 strategy is broken down like this -

3 Things You Found Out

2 Interesting Things
1 Question You Still Have

However, you can adapt this strategy in a way that makes sense for your lesson. The link above is from ReadingQuest.Org, and it has a downloadable and printable 3-2-1 handout.