211: Discussion Techniques (1 of 3)



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Benefits of Discussions:
  • Students formulate ideas and learn to communicate them effectively
  • Encourage students to think and speak in the habits of the targeted discipline
  • Students develop awareness of multiple perspectives, ambiguity and complexity
  • Students learn to challenge their own assumptions
  • Students practice being attentive listeners
  • Students have opportunities to connect new and prior knowledge
Challenges of Discussions:
  • Students may sit passively during discussions because they are used to doing this during lectures
  • Students are afraid to risk sharing their thoughts and feelings
Overcoming Challenging:
  • Reduce risk by dividing class into pairs or small groups
  • Establish frameworks that encourage active participation for all students
  • Give students time to reflect and rehearse their thoughts
  • Give students time to find others who agree with them before they go public with their thoughts
Discussion Technique 1 of 6: Think Pair Share
  • What this is:
    • Students respond to a prompt individually and then with a partner before sharing ideas with the whole class
  • Preparation:
    • Develop engaging prompts that have multiple possible responses
    • Develop a plan for gathering responses
  • Procedure:
    • Pose question to class and provide time for students to devise individual responses
    • Pair students and ask them to share their responses
      • If they disagree, ask them to explain and clarify their responses
      • If possible, ask pairs to develop a joint response to the prompt
    • Gather responses from each pair and share with the whole class
  • Variations and Extensions:
    • Export “think” step to out of class time by asking students to prep their response to a question outside class time
    • Give students time to write out their responses – Write, Pair, Share
    • Ask pair to share their ideas with another pair before sharing their ideas with the whole class
  • Implementation Tips:
    • Give students sufficient time to develop their individual and paired responses – use volume ofsxall group responses to gauge appropriate time for the latter
    • While reporting out responses to the whole group, ask each pair to share their most important point that has not already been shared by another pair
    • To encourage attentive listening, randomly call on pairs and ask them to summarize the previous pair’s response before sharing a new point
    • For challenging responses, pair this technique with the Minute Paper with a prompt such as what aspect of the prompt was the most challenging for you to answer and why?
Discussion Technique 2 of 6: Think Pair Share
  • What this is:
    • Students take turn sharing words/phrases that are brainstormed responses to a prompt – all students respond without elaboration or judgement.
  • Preparation:
    • Develop a prompt that can create a diverse array of possible responses
  • Procedure:
    • Divide class into groups of 4 or 6
    • Explain brainstorming purposes and norms.  One key norm is to avoid questioning or judging ideas.
    • Each group assigns a recorder
    • Individuals in groups take turns giving responses to prompt – they can take turns by moving clockwise around the group.  Groups do this for a set time limit for a set number of turns around the group.  Set constraints to ensure that all group members participate.
  • Online implementation
    • Could use threaded discussion or a tool like TodaysMeet
    • Establish norms such as – each post contains new ideas, do not address or disagree with previous responses, every students must post a responses before another student can post a second response
  • Variations and extensions
    • Can be used to structure other discussions than brainstorming ones in order to ensure that ALL students participate
    • Can use Round Robin logistics to encourage ELL’s to practice using academic words and phrases
  • Implementation tips
    • Reserve this strategy for straightforward tasks that lend themselves to quick responses such as: generating lists reviewing materials, and identifying obvious applications of ideas
    • Give students to opportunity to pass if they can’t think of new ideas.  Stop when all students opt to pass.
    • Model types of response for students who are not used to discussions.
    • Offer student time to write up their responses prior to starting the Round Robin discussion
    • Process techniques generated in Round Robin sessions using techniques such as Affinity Groups and Concept Mapping.

3-sowhatStructuring discussions to ensure active participation by ALL students can have numerous benefits for students.  Students can learn how to explain and clarify their ideas, become aware of their assumptions, learn multiple perspectives, and connect new and prior knowledge.  Teachers can encourage students who are used to having a passive role in learning activities to become active participants of discussions by implementing  protocols that  promote active participations for ALL.


Preparation Steps
  • Decide what learning activities can benefit from discussions
  • Select the discussion style that goes best with the type of ideas targeted for discussion
  • Design a discussion prompt that can elicit multiple responses
  • Design a followup activity that can be used to process ideas generated by discussions
Early Implementation Steps
  • Implement the discussion protocol of your choice
  • Implement another activity that promotes reflection upon or furthering processing of information gathered by discussion activity
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Decide which discussion protocols are the most effective tools to practice speaking / thinking in the targeted discipline and incorporate these into class routines
  • Use student feedback to refine implementation of protocols

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