I have an activity that I call 1-2-4. I give the students a question, problem, etc. and have them work on it on their own setting a time limit. When the buzzer goes off each student partners up with a classmate and discuss it for 3-5 minutes sharing ideas, perspective or reasoning. When the buzzer goes off, that pair finds another pair and the process repeats. When the buzzer goes off, we come back as a whole class and share any insights or ideas that were gained. Occasionally I ask them to come to consensus at each step.
For struggling students, this provides a way to get the information in front of them at least 4 times. Vygotsky's zone in action. As the peers explain their perspectives, it provides opportunity to see problem solving in action.
My kids like it because it either clarifies or provides validation. It allows kids opportunity for success.
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One of the things that I do at the beginning of the year with all of my students is take a personality test. We share the results and it really tends to help form bonds(especially if our numbers are similar) and open up the lines of communication. I try to do as many things as I can to build trust and create an atmosphere that is conducive to positive risk taking. If you are interested, please send a private message and I will try to find a digital copy on my school computer to share with you via email. Good Luck!
Have you heard of Paideia seminars? This blog posts describes the theory behind it and the steps involved to make it happen. Sounds like a great way to foster academic and meaningful conversations.
I run an assessment task in my English classes called 'Structured Conversation'. I explicitly teach good conversation skills such as:
1. Ask someone a question, listen to the answer and then ask another question based on what was answered.
2. Verbally clarifying someone else's opinion (e.g. So what you are saying is...) and ask them to explain it further.
3. Verbally agree with someone else or verbally disagree.
4. Ask someone who is quiet, what they are thinking on the issue. If you invited them over to your house as a guest and they left without saying anything, you would have been a very bad host not taking an interest in them.
5. Turn your body and your eyes to the person speaking and when you speak, speak with your eyes to convey more expression.
It's important at this stage to also teach those more opinionated students that they already know what they have to say but they don't really know what anyone else is thinking until they say it out loud - so try to listen and speak in balance.
Once these skills have been practised in pairs and small groups, I give everyone a fertile question such as the classics: 'Is it better to live in a house or a cave?', 'Can betrayal be forgiven?', or 'Is it better to be a wild animal or a pet?'.
Give the topic out the day before and allow students time to create a fantastic mind map that includes references to anecdotes, statistics and examples.
On the day of the assessment, set the tables and chairs up like a board table so everyone can see each other. Students can have their own mind map like a place-mat in front of them. As the assessor, have a rubric in front of you with each of the 5 skills you need to see demonstrated by everyone and tick them as they appear; this requires some fast and furious work by you, particularly if the conversation really takes off but the feedback is essential to developing the skills. Given that students gain points for asking what others think, the process tends to run smoothly once they get used to it and the students will lots of verbal skills will stir it up!
Allow time at the end for students to highlight contributions from others that were positive or unexpected.
* be prepared to jump in quickly with any student who decides to 'overshare' personal information.
You will find that this task transforms the tone of your classroom. It becomes alive, respectful and most of all, thinking is valued! I think that most really shy students, never learnt these conversational skills and once they know that simply asking a question and then another can open up a conversation, they are socially empowered.
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