Anyone who has ever wanted to have meaningful conversations with a large group of students knows, it does not always go as planned! Well, here are 5 tips that help lead to great classroom conversations!
1. Choosing an Interesting topic: In order to choose topic, one must first ask, what is the purpose of the discussion? Focusing on the purpose makes it easier to choose a topic, no matter how controversial.
Side note– Students love to engage in relevant, real-world, discussions that they believe has relevance to their lives. If you are struggling to find some topics, below are a few resources to consider:
- TED talks about/for children
- Moral Dilemmas- Is it ever right to harm?
- CNN Student News
- PBS Frontline documentaries
2. Move the conversation forward: “Why might reading about conversations, make you better at being in one?
The most powerful questions when facilitating a discussion usually begin with, “Why…” but remember, as long as the questions created before the discussion, or during, move the conversation forward or more deeply, you are asking the right questions! So how to do this exactly:
- Do not ask yes or no questions: These sorts of questions do not allow the conversation to go anywhere
- Ask follow up questions: Why did you say that? Is that the only perspective on this topic? Have you always felt that way?
- Use Costa’s Levels of Questioning: This is a great resource for students and teachers alike. This tool can help both of you ask high level questions!
3. Staying on topic: Anyone who has ever sat in multiple meetings, usually comes across that one person who seems to always take the conversation into a direction not relevant to the point of the meeting…same happens in classrooms. Remember, it is ok for conversation to move a bit freely, but always make sure that the content or point behind what someone shares ties back into the immediate topic or grander purpose of the discussion.
4. Switch up who talks to who: Keep the exchanges interesting by rotating through the following three strategies:
(1) Individual reflection– This lets students gather their own thoughts before sharing. This can be done through writing, or simply sitting in silence for a set amount of time before discussing.
(2) Partner or small group sharing– Have students first share with those nearby. This gives you the opportunity as a facilitator the chance to hear the overall thoughts of the class and arguments of the students prior to having the group discussion…which really means, a chance to create thought provoking questions!
(3) Large group/whole class discussion– This is the most commonly used as it is easiest for the facilitator to have one student share to the entire class Be wary of making this the default form of discussion as it can provide little opportunity for students who are shy or simply more introverted to share their views aloud.
5. Consider everyone in the room: This is actually part of the last point. This simply means that calling on the most talkative students may not always be best and perhaps neither calling out the students who never engage in large group discussions. Remember, everyone will not engage in the large class discussion. And frankly, there reason is not as important as recognizing this and adjusting accordingly. This is why utilizing the previous step is key. Everyone wins!
Remember, there is no absolute formula to a great conversation…it takes practice. But with these tools, you will certainly be on your way!
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