Try starting with something simple, like a fish bowl discussion. I use this with literature discussions to get students primed to discuss. I have them work in small groups first, to go over a reading together. Then each group sends one representative to the "fish bowl" for a short (10 minute) discussion. These students sit at a table in the center of class. The other students listen to them discuss the predetermined study questions. "Fish" only discuss, student to student. The observers take at least three "meaty" and meaningful notes about the discussion. At first, the most enthusiastic students volunteer, but, over time, this method gets everyone involved. Students get comfortable with the limited time in discussion and start feeling like their voice is welcome. I ask for new "fish" each day, until we cycle through the class. It slowly, but surely, begins a more discussion-friendly culture. The hard part becomes keeping the observers from chiming in!
I love Lynne and Tom's suggestions!
I'll add a few other possibilities in case you need to supplement, or one of these might better fit another class:
--Along the lines of what Tom suggested, perhaps provide choice, or take a survey of topics they're interested in investigating/discussing.
--Consider using the "Gradual Release of Responsibility" model. Instead of you providing all the questions for discussion, perhaps assign students to come to class with a question or two, and you could select some from them, then transition to the students providing the majority of the questions, etc.
--Take a "Teacher TimeOut." I do this so that I don't dominate discussion. But sometimes I'll say "the next X minutes are yours to hash out _______ in the text" and then I set a timer and shut up. The students usually step up, even if only because the silence becomes UNBEARABLE. :)
--Consider a "backchannel" or silent discussion. This could be with a tech tool such as Today's Meet, or you could put poster paper up around the room with a piece of text taped on it, or a question and have students write responses using post-it notes. Later in class, assign students in groups to a poster and have them discuss and share out.
--Going into a Soc Sem you could issue each students 2-4 slips of paper/cardstock and have them write their initials on them. When they contribute to the discussion, they can toss their paper into the center of the circle to show their participation. Sometimes the idea of tracking/visulaization is enough of a nudge to get them going.
Hope this helps!
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Oftentimes I find it helpful to tailor a conversation to my audience. Perhaps frame the prompt/problem around US Women's soccer if I have a class of sporty girls or around Batman vs. Superman if I have a classroom full of nerds *I can use this term freely as I am one of them ;) If you are unsure, have the students brainstorm a topic of interest. Adapt your lesson to suit their wants/needs. You'll both be better off as a result.
I've had students write down answers to questions I know I will ask or will be brought up in a conversation first and I've noted which of their answers were great answers and I tell them I will call on them to answer that question and to be ready to create a conversation from that answer. Giving them time to prepare helps increase confidence and encourages them to participate more for the conversation. Also, each time they speak, they see me note down a mark and that is their participation grade.
A few other ideas:
- I've had a "passing notes" discussion with the class. I prep a few short questions on multiple pieces of paper, all different colors. Then I pass out the papers, one to each student, and ask the students to write 1-2 sentences to answer the questions. After a few minutes, the students pass the paper to someone else - someone near by in their team, someone to the right or left of them, they have to get up and give it to someone in another area of the room, whatever. Then, they read the question on the new paper, read the other student's response, and then respond to it - a good time to introduce sentence starters like "I agree with you, but I'd add.." or "I disagree because..." or whatever. We pass the papers several times, and then I stop the passing and ask someone to read aloud the "conversation" on their papers. Sometimes, at this point, students will respond based on other ideas they think themselves, other ideas that are on the papers in front of them, or other ideas they wrote on papers during the passing part.
- It's tantamount to make sure that students feel safe and comfortable sharing. Talking in class is a risk, especially as kids get older and peers make fun. Making sure you stay positive in your comments to students and encourage risks and mistakes is huge. If you have the opportunity, consider making more time for ice breakers (not just for the first week of school!) and community-building circles, which is the basis of restorative justice.
I've been really thinking this year about the balance between speaking and listening. I showed students that standards and emphasized that there is EQUALITY between speaking and listening. I have noticed that my kids who do not typically go into the fishbowl or feel comfortable speaking (YET), are listening with more vigor! When we reflect, I include listening skills as much as speaking skills. This allows many students to feel successful during the discussion because they were able to listen and distinguish a claim or pull out important information that would help them in their reading or writing. This has provided a huge opening in my classroom this year!
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