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Class Discussion: Activities & Ideas

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  • 0:01 Importance
  • 0:55 Challenges
  • 1:46 Activities
  • 4:08 Alternatives
  • 5:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Esther Bouchillon

Esther has taught middle school and has a master's degree in gifted education.

In this lesson, we will discuss the importance of class discussions. We will also review several different types of class discussion activities that are appropriate for a variety of grade levels and subjects.

Importance

Imagine what would happen if the board of directors for a company didn't know how to communicate effectively. Picture a team of writers for a television show that had no idea how to listen to each other's opinions. Put yourself in a senate subcommittee where none of the senators knew how to clearly articulate whether they agree or disagree with a concept. All of these situations would be horrible!

Nothing can get done in a group if people do not know how to communicate effectively. Class discussions are an excellent way to accomplish this skill. Sometimes teachers can get so caught up in covering the curriculum that they push aside some of these vital tools. Knowing the specifics of photosynthesis or the themes of an Emily Dickinson poem may not be necessary for many students' future careers, but talking and collaborating with other people certainly will. Of course, curriculum must be taught, but class discussions are excellent methods to introduce or reinforce material.

Challenges

There are several challenges to having a class discussion. Simply posing a question and calling on different students to answer can get boring. Some students may also be uncomfortable with talking in a group, especially if the question involves their opinion or is more than a quick, one sentence answer.

Another issue with class discussions is that sometimes multiple students want to talk at once. This is especially true with elementary students. Using a talking ball or talking stick can help with this. Only the person with the object can talk, and then the object is thrown or passed to the next person.

With traditional class discussions, only a few students are actively participating per question and students are required to sit for long periods of time. Good teachers know that students cannot concentrate well during long periods of inactivity; they tend to lose focus and may even begin to behave poorly.

Activities

Using different activities can make discussions enjoyable and feel more like games for students.

Where Do You Stand?

Here, the teacher posts signs in the classroom that say 'agree' and 'disagree' on opposite sides of the classroom. Depending on the topics, you might also want to include a sign for 'neutral' in the middle of the room. Read statements and have students decide if they agree or disagree with the statement by moving to that side of the room. After everyone has chosen a side, pick a few students to share why they feel that way.

Think Pair Share

After posing a question, give all the students at least thirty seconds to think silently about their answer. Next, pair students in groups of two or three to discuss their responses. Finally, call on a few groups to share what they discussed with the class.

Inner Circle, Outer Circle

This a variation on Think Pair Share. Rather than keeping the same partner for each topic, pairings change with each question. Divide the class in half and form two circles, one inside the other. Students in the inner circle talk with students in the outer circle. After a question has been answered and shared, have the inner circle rotate so that everyone gets a new partner.

Hot Seats

Set up the classroom with chairs in one large circle and three to five chairs in the center of the circle. Call on a few students to move to the center chairs known as the 'hot seats.' Ask the students in the hot seat a question and give them a chance to discuss it. Be sure that they are speaking loud enough to be heard by everyone. Students sitting in the outside circle should be taking notes on the discussion. This style works best when students have a chart or diagram to fill out during the activity, like a pro-con chart. Be sure to trade out students sitting in the hot seats frequently.

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