“Please turn to your partner and share…” Words that can be heard in classrooms around the country. I have been using various discussion strategies in my teaching for years. However it occurred to me lately that my students are still leaving group discussions with only their own ideas.
My students need LISTENING strategies. They need to share their own thinking and grow their conceptual understanding by listening to their partner’s ideas, too. Since this revelation, I started to collect discussion strategies that require my students to share, and more importantly, to listen with an openness towards altering their original ideas. Here are a few of my favorite strategies:
Discussion Stoplight: Repeat, New Idea, Add On
This is an easy strategy with which to start. I use it during my whole group discussions when I want to encourage students to build on each others’ ideas.
- I put up three labels on my white board: new idea, repeat, and add on. They are copied on green, yellow, and red in order to resemble a stop light, hence the name “Discussion Stoplight.”
- I give the students the topic we are going to discuss, “I would like to hear different ways you can solve the problem 45 + 37.”
- As students share out their ideas, I start to tally.
At first, the discussion is heavy in the area of new idea sharing (the green light); we have to get the discussion rolling. Once the first brave student starts to branch out to adding on or repeating, the real magic happens. The group starts to make connections with one another’s thinking and rephrase ideas in ways that show they are internalizing the discussion. This process slows the conversation down, just like red and yellow lights do, and naturally allows students to dig deeper into a topic rather than just skimming the surface.
Note: I post and review sentence frames to help students use appropriate vocabulary for adding on to comments or respectfully repeating other people’s ideas. I find this raises the level of academic language being used in the conversation, not just for my English language learners, but for all of my students.
Think, Trade, Compare
I also love posing a wide open question in my room in order to spark student thinking. For example, we are currently studying animal adaptations, so I gave my students a picture of an unusual animal and asked them, “If this was a new animal to be featured at the zoo, what would it need in its habitat to help it live comfortably?” Next I used the think, trade, compare strategy to structure the creation of plausible explanations.
- After forming groups of four, they were given a piece of paper and assigned a place in the room to meet and capture their thinking.
- Next, individual students wrote their initial thoughts on their paper. Note: If you would like to track individual thinking, each student could have their own color.
- Then the group rotated their papers so each student was looking at a neighbor’s answer. Every student added on another sentence or a question to their neighbor’s initial response.
- The group rotated the paper again, repeating the process until the students received their paper back.
- The students reviewed their initial response with all the commentary added.
- Finally, the group synthesized their ideas together in the middle section, making sure to add pieces from every student in their group.
I see a lot of value in this strategy as it encourages every student to participate. It also provides assurance to students that however simple their initial response, their understanding will grow from the combined knowledge of their group members.
Give One, Get One
Using this technique when students are stuck on one strategy encourages them to branch out in their thinking. The strategy starts with giving the class a problem to solve or a topic to write about. For example, this week I asked my students to write an topic sentence for a paragraph describing an animal’s habitat. The rest of the strategy continues like this:
- Students write down their topic sentence in one square of a 3×3 grid.
- Next, they share their sentence with another student. If they have different topic sentences, then they trade. For example, one child might have started with a question, “Do you know where a lion lives?” While another child might have used onomatopoeias, “Crunch, crunch! The lion walks through the dry grasses of the savanna.” Each child would write their partner’s sentence in a square on their paper. Now they have two ideas for starting their paragraph. They gave their sentence, and received one in return.
- Then each child finds another partner and exchanges ideas again. This round, they can exchange their sentence or one that they collected. The only stipulation is that it is different than their partner’s. This process repeats until they have nine different topic sentences written on their paper.
There is power in having students share their examples rather than a teacher generating or providing a list of possible topic sentences. My students are more invested in products they have a piece in creating.
Now I have to warn you. These strategies took work! It was not long before one of my students commented, “Listening is harder than talking!” He was absolutely right. Listening is harder and it takes more time. These are not just one sided discussions – they are conversations. Conversations require clarification and questioning in order to form understanding, this is where learning happens. I am curious…how do you get your students to listen?