Friday, February 20, 2015

Discussion Groups in the Classroom (& a freebie!)

I love it when my students are engaged in high quality discussions about the text we are working with. At this point in the school year, our discussions are on topic and flowing smoothly. What a beautiful thing! Music to a teacher's ears!

We all have different ways of structuring class discussions. I've come up with a structure that works really well in my classroom. It can be difficult to harness the thoughts and words of a eight/nine year old, but I've found that this does the job for me.

I've found that the best discussions happen when everyone has a job to do. When a discussion is a free-for-all, you all know what happens. The same 1-2 kids take monopoly of the entire conversation, while the wallflower types just listen. Listening is a great skill to have, but I feel that every student should voice their opinion, even if it is just to agree or disagree with what another student said. And all of that is assuming that the conversation is even on topic. I don't know about you, but I feel like the speaking/listening standards are way too important (and underutilized) for these scenarios to become the norm.

I've always arranged my room using tables. I do a lot of group work, investigations, and discussions, and it just wouldn't work if I used rows and columns. This year, I have 25 students, so I have desks arranged in six groups. One group with five students and the rest with four. This year, I used The Brown Bag Teacher's editable desk tags.

Do not pin this image. Visit TPT to view/pin the product.

This allows me to categorize my students in several different ways. When lining up, I can call tables by color. I could also call all "A" or "B" students or "1s" or "2s". When summarizing a lessons, I often have As discuss with the other A at their table, and Bs doing the same. If I change student seats, I just reassign the tags accordingly. They are not taped down. You can assign students strategically so that you control groups and partners. The product is very versatile. Couldn't recommend enough!

So, how do I use all of this to conduct discussion groups in my classroom? 

Students know that their number signifies their discussion group. I have all ones go to a spot in the room, twos go to other spot, and so on. One group gets the carpet, another at my small group table, another on the floor at the front of the room, and another at a table. The groups are spaced far enough apart so that they can focus on their discussion. Each student needs to bring their text (the book, article, or passage we are working with). If their group is on the floor or carpet, they may grab a clipboard.

Once in their group, I give each student a card which is their discussion role assignment. There are four roles, and they are all modeling and practiced so that expectations are clear. The roles are Discussion Leader, Speaker, Notetaker, and Team Member. Each group has one discussion leader, one speaker, one notetaker, and 3 team members. These posters are hung as a reminder of discussion expectations.



Our favorite texts to discuss are articles from Storyworks (by Scholastic). The subscription comes with critical thinking questions, and sometimes, questions are imbedded right into the text. Instead of writing responses, we discuss them. But, this can used with any text, as long as your discussion topics/questions involve higher order thinking. They obviously shouldn't be yes/no questions!

As students are discussing the text, I simply walk around and listen. If you wanted to be more formal, you could develop a checklist to track student responses and participation or use a form and take anecdotal notes. To keep time, I use a countdown timer on the smart board, and I give 2-3 minutes per question.


Are you interested in trying out this method of running discussion groups? Download the freebie by clicking the picture below. It includes discussion cards and expectation posters. Please leave feedback! =)

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