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Monday, February 19, 2018

Increasing Student Participation in Class Discussions

Do you want to increase student participation in class discussions?  How do you keep the conversations on task so it becomes a valuable teaching tool?  If so, my post on class discussions is for you!

Increasing Student Participation in Class Discussions

Step 1: Start With a Non-Academic Subject
You can talk about their favorite sport or food to start.  EVERYONE has background knowledge on things like this.  It eases the anxiety over having to remember what they just learned in class because no one forgets that pizza is their favorite food!

Step 2:  Teach Students How to Talk
So many times, we assume that students know how and when to talk to each other during a discussion.  As a current 7th Grade teacher and a former 4th Grade teacher, I can assure you that is not the case.  Even from subject to subject and teacher to teacher, expectations on how to talk during a discussion can be different.  So we need to explicitly teach our expectations and procedures for talking to each other.

Some ways to teach students how to talk:

Target one skill at a time, per student
Some need to talk LESS, some need to make more specific text-based contributions, some should practice asking clarifying questions, etc.  Help students make goals for themselves and write them down, if need be.

Practice by using very explicit sentence stems
For example, you might want to come up with some sentence-stems that apply to your subject, such as "When you were talking about _____, I was a little confused about _______.  Could you clarify what you meant?"  There are many free examples of sentence stems available for free on the Internet.  Model it with the teacher practicing with student, then have students practice in partners, and finally, practice whole class.

Don't allow students to shrug their shoulders and say, "I don't know".
Instead, have them say, ”I don’t know yet, but I think...” before they respond. This way, everyone knows they’re guessing and there’s no reason to make fun or laugh at their answer. You can also do a lot of lead in to it, and create success with easy questions. For example, “What’s a vocab word we can use to say _______?”, “Who can stretch this idea and add more?”, Or “I’m not sure, but I think...”.  Then they can fill in the gaps.

Teach students to use their resources to supplement their thinking.
It also helps to have very organized notes and binders for them to keep their information together. If a student tries to say, "I don't know",  encourage them to look it up!

Use bingo chips to help students know how much to talk.
In a structured discussion, give students 2 bingo chips each. When they talk, they put one chip in their team basket. Once chips are gone, they are encouraged to help their team mates speak who have chips. Sometimes this looks like them feeding the other student word for word, but all students participate in the discussion.

Do you have any tips and tricks you'd add to the list?  I'd love to hear about them!

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