Last week I started my Improving Student Discussion Series with Part 1: Measuring Discussion. This was in response to all of the great feedback I received from my post on 7 strategies for getting quiet students to talk in discussions and 3 ways to get your students talking. This week I’m continuing with Part 2 – Increasing Student Talk.
Increasing Student Talk Quick Glance
- It’s All About the Questions
- Partners, Partners, Partners
- Sentence Frames/Stems
- Discussion Strategies
It’s All About the Questions
This is the BIG one. You want to improve your discussions and increase student talk? You need GOOD, DEEP questions! This means, you need to come up with questions or problems that will get your students thinking. The best questions have multiple answers or allow for interpretation or opinion.
The question and how you pose it is everything. To illustrate my point, a simple math question (YES, you can have discussions in math):
Minimal Discussion Question: What is 9 + 8?
Deep Discussion Question: What is the most efficient strategy to calculate 9 + 8?
See the difference? The first question has one correct answer (17). The only opportunity for discussion between students is if they inaccurately calculate the answer. The second question, on the other hand, has multiple answers dependent upon each student’s current math strategies. It also allows for students to express and critique opinions.
Am I saying that there is no place in the classroom for questions with one answer? Certainly not! However, if your goal is for students to talk, you need to plan for opportunities that allow students to discuss and have opportunities for a back and forth conversation with multiple turn-taking.
A great resource for planning for deep questions would be Bloom’s Taxonomy or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (below)
Partners, Partners, Partners
Let’s talk about hand raising. I know. Sometimes, you don’t have a lot of time and you just want to get a quick answer to a question and move on. Right? How many kids get to talk in that case, though? One.
Now, an alternative:
You ask your students a question and you ask them to turn and talk to a partner about their answer. How many are talking now? ALL of them. Does this take a little longer? Yes. Is it worth it? Well, is it important that your low student get an opportunity to talk about the concepts? Is it important that your ELLs get an opportunity to practice their speaking and listening? Is it important that your students in speech, special education, etc. all get an opportunity to talk about their learning? YES.
One way to save time is having planned talk partners. There are many ways and reasons for pairing students together including:
- Chips and Salsa Partners: Partners who just work really well together
- M&M Partners: Mentor & Mentee partners where one mentor student acts as a strong example for their mentee partner
- Traveling Partners: Partners who work more or less at the same level or at the same speed
- Language Partners: Partners who are paired together for language (ex: native English speaker and an ELL)
Having these partners planned out beforehand helps decrease the amount of time it takes for students to find a partner to talk to and also increases the amount of time engaged in meaningful conversation.
So we’ve given students something to talk about with our deep questions and they now have someone to talk to. Now it’s time to start talking. How many of your students, though, will not even start talking because they don’t know how to start answering the question? Would many of them answer using words from your question? How many would use academic language in their answer?
This is where sentence frames or sentence stems come into play. Let’s define these:
- Sentence Frame: A frame of a complete sentence for students to fill in the blanks with their thinking (ex: The main idea of this text is ____ because_____)
- Sentence Stem: The start of a sentence for students to complete (ex: One details is_____)
Restating a question is not an innate ability and using sentence frames/stems is an excellent way to teach it. Providing sentence frames/stems for students accomplishes a few things:
- Gives students the start of an answer
- Provides students with academic language to use and practice
- Proven aide for ELLs and SPED students
This takes planning, though. When you write your questions, write your sentence frames/stems. If you write your questions on slides, write your sentence frames right below. If you write your questions down on chart paper, write your sentence stems right below. It takes getting used to, but I guarantee you will not believe the vocabulary your students start using during discussions and afterwards as a result of using sentences frames.
Ok, you’ve got great questions, your students know who they’re going to talk to, and they now know how to answer the question. Here is where we crank those discussions up to eleven and make your administrators ask you to present some PD.
Think-Frame-Pair-Square: Students think about a prompt, use a sentence frame and talk with a partner. Teacher allows students time to talk with their partner to form their ideas and add on to their idea. Then students “Square”: two pairs of students join to form a square (4 students total) and continue discussing the prompt using the ideas from their first partner. Afterwards, share out as a whole group.
Parallel Lines: Students stand in 2 parallel lines facing each other. The teacher provides the following prompts for students to discuss. Students step forward to talk with the person immediately in front of them. As they finish, they step back into their lines. After all have finished, the teacher directs one line to move such that each student is standing in front of a new partner. Teacher encourages students to borrow language and ideas from their first partner as they now talk to a new partner. Repeat as desired and share at the end.
Class Discussion: Students sit in a circle and teacher provides prompts. Teacher attempts to stay out of the conversation by encouraging students to build off of each other’s ideas by using a sentence stem such as “I agree/disagree with ____because____,” “I’d like to add_____,” etc.
Stronger-Clearer: Students think about the question. Students talk with a partner using the sentence frame. Students BORROW an idea from their partner to incorporate into their own response. Teacher may choose to have students talk to more than one partner to have them borrow more ideas. Students share their responses with the ideas they have borrowed from their partner(s) in writing or in a classroom discussion.
If you take anything away from this post, I hope it’s that increasing student talk in your classroom requires some planning. I encourage you to give just one of these strategies a try to witness the change. Write one of these into your lesson plans. All of my lesson plans have these strategies written into them down to the discussion strategy I plan to use. Now I can reuse those plans every year knowing I have opportunities for increasing student talk built in and planned already.
Did you try any of these? Let me know in the comments!