Classroom discussions are an important part of learning. The Common Core State Standards, address discussions under the Speaking & Listening strands. This list shows the main standards:
Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
As teachers, you can approach setting up ground rules for classroom discussions from two directions. The teacher can develop a set of rules or students can develop rules for the class to follow. Either way, implementing ground rules is not an option but a necessity. In the next sections, I will explain what I have done in my classroom. Both methods have been successful.
Begin by drawing a T-chart on the board or on chart paper. Label the two sides of the T-chart with “Successful Class Discussions” and “Unsuccessful Class Discussions.” Start by asking students to tell you about experiences they have had in the past. Ask, “What makes class discussions meaningful? As students offer ideas, write them on the T-chart. Next, have students tell things that hurt classroom discussions or prevent them from being a learning experience for the students. Again, write these on the chart.
Following the brainstorming session, divide the class into small groups. Each group is assigned the task to write a set of ground rules for successful class discussions. Gather the results. Write these on the board or on chart paper. Often several groups have the same rule. You can note this by using tally marks instead of writing the same rules again. I usually type up the list after class. The next day have students vote anonymously for the rules they feel are important.
When students create their own ground rules, they are more vested in making them work.
Teacher Created Rules
The second option is for the teacher to plan a great set of ground rules and post them in the classroom. Using acronyms is one way to help students remember ground rules for class discussions. Here is an example of one I created.
Dispute ideas, not people.
It’s okay not to talk if you don’t have an opinion on the topic.
Show respect by paying attention.
Be courteous by not interrupting, using appropriate body language, and not starting conversations with others.
Understand that others have different backgrounds and may interpret things differently.
Support any opinions you share with examples.
Seek better understanding by asking questions that showed you listened attentively.
It’s not okay to monopolize the conversation.
Remain open-minded. Expect to learn from the discussion.
Keep class discussions secret. Anything said during a class discussion should remain confidential to class members.
Download the foldable organizer. Three versions of the organizer are included in the download including a blank form for students to create their own rules.
The Role of the Teacher in Classroom Discussions
During classroom discussions, teachers need to guide the conversation so that it follows the intended path. This is not as easy as it sounds. Here are some tips for guiding classroom discussions.
- Remind students of the ground rules.
- Reword student questions to provide better understanding and to keep the discussion focused.
- Correct misinformation.
- Ask students to explain statements.
- Make connections between material the class has studied and points that are made in the discussion.
- Summarize the main ideas of the discussion.
- Ask students to reflect on the discussion by providing written feedback.
You may also like the post Collaborative Groups Made Simple. This post explains how one hour of organization will make transitioning your class into group activities simple.