In this post, I’m sharing my tips for how to lead a class discussion that rocks. (Hint: YOU are not the most important ingredient!)
The number of the day is four.
In this post, I’ll discuss four big-picture goals of class discussion, four guidelines for creating discussion magic, as well as four characteristics of a successful discussion.
Finding Purpose in Class Discussion
First off, let’s zoom waaaaaay out to see the big picture.
If you think about it, the act of discussion is pretty cool!
When we discuss, our lives intersect with different individuals, each with a unique combination of age, gender, culture, education, geographic location, family life, personal values and beliefs, life experience, ideas, etc.
In true discussion, it’s not about me; it’s about the people I’m interacting with today.
Discussion is really about how I can understand myself and others better.
Four Big Picture Goals for Classroom Discussion
- Acknowledge and understand the past and look toward the future.
- Understanding that we make meaning together and not in isolation.
- Appreciate diversity.
- Be human.
Four Guidelines for Leading Class Discussion, a.k.a. Creating Discussion Magic
Clear norms and expectations
- These should be separate from, but complementary to your classroom norms and rules.
- Keep the list of norms for class discussion short and specific (4-5 items) and post it clearly for everyone to see.
- If you want to swipe mine, here they are (ABC’s for Discussion): Add value, Be kind, Cultivate curiosity, Dig deep, Examine the Text
- Click here to download the ABC’s of Discussion classroom poster!
- Model these norms, show examples of effective/ineffective discussions if possible, and practice, practice, practice with feedback.
Framed and focused
- What are the goals for the class discussion? What skills will students need to demonstrate or practice?
- It is helpful if you begin with a “frame” for student led discussion, something that will inspire thought and conversation. This frame will help you to introduce the discussion so that students are discussing out of a need to make meaning vs. saying what they think you want them to say because you’re giving them a grade. Here are some examples:
- A simple goal statement and question written on the board.
- A “critical lens” (literary theory) through which students will critique/analyze.
- A “lightning” round robin class discussion of a chapter or text, leading into questions about the text.
- A film clip, a text that complements or connects to something the students have already read, a story, an image…you get the idea.
- It’s great if you are getting students to participate in classroom conversation, but even better if they run the show.
- Remember, when leading a class discussion, the best way to lead is NOT to lead. Let the students lead.
- Set up the room so that students aren’t facing YOU, but instead are facing each other. Position yourself at the edge of the room, outside the circle or as a part of the circle.
- Establish a procedure for students to call on each other and make that the expectation.
Rooted in text(s)
- It’s important to use the texts read in class as a springboard for conversation. Overall, I find that this is a part of modeling, practice, and feedback for discussion that happens in the beginning of the year with a group of students. Once students understand what class discussion should look like and sound like, it will become a natural part of their conversation.
- To increase the rigor, lead a classroom discussion by having students synthesize ideas from multiple texts.
- Text-based discussions can be personal, too. But everything has to come back to the text. Students should engage in analysis. Asking text-based questions and engaging in analysis is the springboard for connections to personal life and society.
4 Characteristics of a Successful Class Discussion:
- Students can clearly explain the goal(s) for discussion and why they were having the discussion in the first place.
- Students lead a class discussion, self-monitor, and welcome everyone into the conversation.
- All students are active contributors, following the norms set for discussion.
- Students arrive at a new understanding of a text, an issue and/or themselves.
I hope this post has been useful to help you think about the purpose behind class discussion and how to lead class discussion.
Please leave a comment below to let me know what you’re thinking about!
Hey, if you loved this post, I want to be sure you’ve had the chance to grab a FREE copy of my guide to streamlined grading. I know how hard it is to do all the things as an English teacher, so I’m over the moon to be able to share with you some of my best strategies for reducing the grading overwhelm.
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[…] And we frequently pivot naturally, mid-lesson, if all isn’t going according to plan. In fact, having a plan that depends upon and is co-created with the students is my goal for any lesson that involves class discussion. […]