Question Detail

Frequency of Seminar Discussions

Jul 17, 2013 1:14pm

Discussion obviously plays a huge role in most ELA classrooms. For those of you who like to have socratic seminars or similar discussion structures that allow the teacher to "get out of the way" (e.g., pinwheel discussions, Paideia seminars), how often do you have these kinds of largely student-controlled discussions? Additionally, in what other ways do you structure, scaffold, and facilitate frequent student discussions in your ELA classrooms, and how often?

This will be my first year teaching on my own (9th and 10th grade English), and I'm eager to involve my students in asking questions, constructing their own understandings, and having rich discussions about texts and other ELA topics.

  • English Language Arts
  • 9-12
  • Assessment / Behavior / Class Culture / Common Core / Differentiation / Engagement / New Teachers / Planning


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    • Jul 22, 2013 10:13am

      I was really hoping this question would spur on some discussion. I've been teaching a long time, but this year will be my first time trying seminar discussions.

      • Jul 22, 2013 6:19pm


        I was trained in the Paideia seminar by the gurus, and I think it's an awesome way to model discussion skills and giving critical feedback in a respectful way. I would love to use it more often, but I think realistically, using the discussion is realistic twice a month. You can certainly use smaller scale discussions on a more regular basis, but since the Paideia seminar takes a full class period, I think it's a good use of time for close reading and discussion of a text, which allows you to assess Common Core standards in both reading and speaking and listening.

        I hope this helps!

        • Mar 21, 2018 10:57am

          While I agree with Ms. Novak's assessment, I disagree with the frequency. I also teach a college survey literature course to seniors in HS, so we have frequent seminars over the literature. We spend anywhere from 60-90 minutes in dialogue, using guiding questions, student groups/teaching questions, and Socratic seminars. We are able to get a deep understanding of text through this method. With seniors, I can frequently rely heavily on their maturity and that they've read the text, however. 9th and 10th might be a different experience.

          • Mar 29, 2018 9:12am

            First check out some of the videos on Teaching Channel for high school teachers demonstrating Socratic Circle, or other student-led discussion.
            I had a really chatty group in American Lit (11th grade) this year, so part way through the new Ryan Gattis novel AIR which touches on Black Lives Matter, finding your own identity, your own place in the world, emotional pain: loss of parent, murder, death of best friend, prejudice, profiling, and physical pain: bullying by a gang, parachuting off buildings, BMX and dirt biking injuries.
            I know alot to talk about :-)
            I started with using BHH: Book, Head, Heart and put question stems related to each to get the guys diving into the book with purpose.
            Book: What surprised you?
            Head: What did the author assume you, the reader, already knew?
            Heart: What mood, tone, atmosphere, and diction bring the story alive for you, the reader?
            I set half the class in the inner circle with their books ready. Class is only 14 students, somebody was always absent, so 6 in and 6 on the outer circle. Outer circle students had to give peer support documented on a paper. Students HAD to come in ready which had been a problem until I introduced this method. Each had a post-it note where they either drew Book, Head, Heart or they wrote Book, Head, Heart. Teacher chose which B, H, H the students would discuss, then set the students to sharing on the inner circle. Then they would meet with their Peer Support to see if they could bring more depth to their explanation of why they chose BHH. By the second day, the students were fully engaged in the method and I expanded it to include WHY? By the fourth day I'd given them a formal oral assessment identifying: civil engagement, identifying ideas clearly, and bringing concepts back to the discussion. Even the most reticent of the group would share and offer discussion.