It can often be tough for us as Social Studies teachers to shift from being the “sage on the stage” to being the “guide on the side” in our student’s learning. However, it’s critical for students to have the opportunities to go beyond hearing or reading about social studies topics. It’s important for them to have the opportunities to process their understanding through talk.
The idea of turning your class over to students can be intimidating, but in order for our students to really “do” Social Studies and engage in the level of critical thinking, it’s vitally important to give ample opportunities, both big and small, for students to develop skills.
Providing students with discussion practices and routines will help students develop the long-term skills to be confident and productive speakers and listeners. It will also ease teacher anxiety about integrating classroom talk!
Students can use the following steps before, during, and after a collaborative discussion.
1) Prepare for the Discussion
- Read the discussion question.
- Ask questions about the question, to make sure you understand it completely.
- List what you learned about the discussion question.
- Write a sentence stating your opinion.
- Name two reasons for your opinion.
2) During the Discussion
- When it’s your turn:
- Tell your opinion about the question.
- Speak clearly so your classmates understand what you are trying to say.
- Give reasons for your opinion.
- Stay on topic. Connect your ideas to what you heard your classmates say.
- When it’s someone else’s turn:
- Be polite while other classmates tell their opinions.
- You may not always agree with another speaker, but it is important to listen to what they have to say.
- Nod if a classmate says something interesting; don’t laugh if a classmate makes a mistake or says something you don’t agree with.
- Take turns. Don’t interrupt. If your class uses a talking stick, wait to speak until you have the floor.
- Listen closely so you can understand the ideas and opinions of your classmates.
- Think of questions you can ask to make sure you heard what other children said. You could ask:
- Can Pedro tell more about what he said?
- Lisa said [say what you heard her say]. Did I get that right?
- Amit gave his opinion. Can he tell a reason for why he thinks that?
3) After the Discussion
- Ask yourself:
- Before the discussion, my opinion was:
- After this discussion, my opinion is:
- Think: Did we all have the same opinion about the topic? If we didn’t, what did we all agree on?
Integrating student talk in our classroom can be improved by integrating a few discussion routines. In doing so, you help students build speaking and listening skills throughout the year. Students will learn to clarify their own thinking and support it with evidence. It’s equally critical that they learn to compare their own POV with that of others. Collaborative discussions focus on thinking, not just the right answer!