By Teachers, For Teachers
Classroom discussions are a staple in every classroom, but they don’t always go so well. Have you ever asked your students a question, then looked around the room at a sea of blank faces? This happens to a lot of teachers. You ask a question to get the conversation started, then it falls flat. In order to keep this from happening, not only does the topic have to be interesting, but your teaching strategies that lead the discussion have to keep everyone active and engaged. Here are a few successful teaching strategies to help keep the conversation flowing with your students.
When I was a child we would play a game in school called “Mum ball.” This is when all of the students would sit on top of their desks and point and pass a Nerf ball (without speaking) to one another. As the ball got passed around the classroom and you didn’t catch it, then you had to sit down. The last person sitting on their desk would win. This was a great concept for quieting students down while keeping them engaged. However, imagine the conversations you could get started if you took this same game, but had students speak their thoughts and opinions on a specific topic when they caught ball instead of staying quiet. This game can also be a great motivator for the “Shy” students to speak up and use their voice in class.
A common teaching strategy many educators like to use is discussion cards. In order for this strategy to go smoothly, all you have to do is put students together in small groups and give them a few discussion cards to get the conversation rolling. You can also use discussion cards within a whole group setting by asking students a question from the card, then allowing them to discuss their answers within a small group before asking each group what their response is. This way, students get the best of both worlds: They get to have the chance to voice their opinion within the small group, then hear every groups’ responses within a whole group setting.
A fun way to keep students engaged in classroom discussions is to group students together to create “Interview-style” questions. Depending on what or who the topic is about, each group must come up with questions to ask. For example, if students were studying about Harriet Tubman, each group would come up with as many questions as were members of the group to ask Harriet Tubman. Then as a whole group, one member from each small group would choose their favorite question and discuss it with the class. Once all groups have taken their turn, they would return to their small group and write out how they think Harriet Tubman would’ve answered their question. Once that is completed, each group can then share their responses with the class.
The jigsaw teaching strategy is a cooperative learning technique that forces students to complete an individual task so they can share their knowledge within a group. Here’s how it works as far as with classroom discussions: Students are put together into four different groups. Each student within their group is given a letter (A, B, C, etc.) and a different article to read. Once the student has read their article by themselves, then they regroup (A students go with A students, while B students go with B, and so on). While they are in their groups, they discuss what they’ve just read and how they will go about presenting this information to the other groups who have a different article. Then, students regroup to share their knowledge while the other students take notes. Students keep regrouping until they have learned from each article. It’s a fun way and interactive way to keep the discussion going and students on toes.
Four corners is an icebreaker game that we used to play in elementary school. The teacher would designate each corner of the room with a number, and then one student would be blindfolded while the other students would quietly run to a corner in the classroom while the blindfolded student counted to ten. Once they were finished counting, the blindfolded student could chose a number 1-4, and whoever was in that corner had to sit down. This game would continue until one person was left standing. This game was very popular among students and can be used in classrooms today to help spark classroom discussions. Instead of assigning each corner a number, you would label each corner (strongly agree, agree, disagree, and strongly disagree). Then you‘d ask students a question and have them quietly go to the corner of their choosing. Once students are in the corner, they would discuss why they choose their answer within the group, then within the whole group.
Classroom discussions are a great way to not only develop students listening skills, but their communication skills as well. As you know, it’s not always easy getting students to share their thoughts in front of their peers, but when you use these teaching strategies, it can sure help.
How do you get classroom discussions started? Do you have any teaching strategies or tips that you would love to share? Please share with in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from on this topic.
Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.