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  • Writer's pictureScott Cameron

10 Whole Class Discussion Strategies

With every passing year, it seems harder and harder to get students interested in whole class discussions. But there are creative ways to help shy students find a voice in class conversations. I think the pandemic turned a lot of kids inward. Social media allows children to hide behind a screen and type words rather than speak out loud.

There are many different reasons why students may not want to speak up in class. They may have anxiety or be the youngest of a few siblings where they don’t get the chance to speak up at home. They may feel more comfortable talking about a short story or novel they love than about a confusing poem. Some students learn better by listening or seeing graphics.

It’s important for students to overcome these challenges, come out of their shell, and get comfortable speaking in front of both small and large crowds. Even if they become brilliant scientists, they will need to explain their findings to their colleagues and supervisors or to a room of students. Construction managers need to be confident in their own ability to articulate a plan. Obviously, there are many jobs for the quiet, but in life, students will engage in meaningful conversations and verbal expressions of their feelings and ideas.

There are usually only a handful of students in every class that can think quickly enough to raise their hand in a few seconds and come up with a lengthy, high-quality response. The best conversations involve most students continually adding to the conversation after the first few students contribute their thoughts. Questions must be open-ended enough to allow for multiple interpretations. All students should always take notes while listening to a whole-class conversation, or the presenter will be the only engaged student.

I try as often as I can to allow my students to think and chat with a partner or small group first before they present their ideas to a large group of their peers. I also include a class participation grade every quarter to reward students who might be better at speaking than writing.

Every discussion should focus on a single topic or question so that the entire class remains focused and the conversation doesn’t digress or become hard to follow.

Here are ten strategies for whole class discussions:

1. The teacher or student reads a passage out loud, the teacher asks a question, and the students respond. In whole-novel activities, there could be anywhere from ten to twenty passages for a single topic and question.

2. Assign pairs or small groups one or a few passages to discuss and then ask students to present their findings to the class.

3. Assign independent work on one or a few passages, then ask the entire class to present their interpretation.

4. Paris or small groups create a single PowerPoint slide in a class presentation.

5. Groups create a poster that they present using a projected image created with the Genius app.

6. Ask students to write a small argument, quote, or paragraph on an index card or piece of paper that they can present to the class.

7. Students create an audio recording and submit it online, then respond to their classmates with another short audio recording.

8. Students write their short response or quote (or even a single topic for a graphic organizer) on a white board or Google Drawing and talk more about what they wrote.

9. Groups present their annotations on an assigned passage.

10. The teacher asks students to post their formal responses online, read them out loud to the class, and elaborate on their thinking.

Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers

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Nov 02, 2023

Can I add to your list? Here are a few more strategies I've found through various sources and found to be very effective at engaging as many students as possible in a whole-class discussion:

  1. Silent Discussion- place a prompt and chart paper in five or six different locations around the room. With voices OFF, students organically move around the room and "talk" on the posters for a certain amount of time (usually 7-10 minutes). Then they choose one prompt they were most intrigued by and summarize the "discussion" for the rest of the class.

  2. Mystery Questions- place 3-4 open-ended questions in several envelopes. In groups, students discuss their questions, then discuss the most intriguing question with the whole class.

  3. Split…

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