My favorite classes in high school and college were the ones where teachers really talked to us and allowed us to share our thoughts and questions freely. Because of this, I have made it a priority to engage students in discussions from the very beginning of my teaching career. Even in my student teaching experience, it has been a critical component of my classroom culture. I’ve been in 3 different schools since then, all with a variety of student populations, and have been able to see their effectiveness in these very diverse environments. This has led me to think of them as even more important than I once did. Why??
1️⃣ THEY ARE FREE AND REQUIRE ZERO RESOURCES!!
2️⃣ You can facilitate discussions whether you are teaching virtually, face to face with restrictions, or just teaching like normal (is anyone even doing that nowadays??)
3️⃣ Easy, low prep way to engage students.
4️⃣ Builds great skills, such as helping students get better at asking questions, thinking critically, making claims orally, and defending them with evidence and reasoning.
Enough about why I love them – how do I facilitate them? Here are 4 tips to get started with effectively engage students in discussions in your secondary classroom:
Create a classroom environment that EVERY student is comfortable in.
This is without a doubt the most important tip of all four. You HAVE to create this environment or students will not speak up and share their thoughts and questions. This also can’t be done overnight, but you have to start somewhere! Jump in tomorrow by making this a priority.
How?? See my blog post all on building relationships with students here.
Create a list of questions IN ADVANCE to ask students.
This will NOT be necessary over time as you get more and more comfortable implementing discussions with your students, but I HIGHLY recommend doing this if you are just starting out. I jot down questions in the notes section of the slides of my PowerPoint, or you can even use a post-it note and keep it at the front of the room.
Think of questions to get them thinking, engaging, and sparking their minds to think of their own questions. You want this to become a conversation, so consider that as you think up questions. Start by writing questions that help students make connections to things you’ve already learned, or even questions like, “Why do you think that is?” These need to be thought-provoking to get them to respond!
Again, this won’t be forever, but to ease you and your students in successfully, the structure will help you feel more prepared for it. Be okay with silence at first too – unless you have a really sociable group, they may not engage much at first. But when they see that you will be doing this daily, they will eventually get over the discomfort of the silence and actually talk!
New Oxford dictionary defines a phenomenon as, “A fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question.” I have a blog post on how NGSS defines it you can check out too.
These are SO PERFECT for engaging your students in discussion and getting them excited for the content. They bring in real-world applications to what you are already learning and make it meaningful for your students!!
Don’t know where to begin finding these? Here are a few places to look for ideas:
- If you own any of my units, check out the NGSS Alignment pdf in the Implementation folder. I have a list of suggestions for each unit topic!!
- Google “NGSS Phenomena” right now and you will find a TON of sites with free suggestions.
- Look at your textbook!! I’m the queen of teaching sans textbook, but even really old ones tend to start off the chapter with some sort of phenomenon to engage before diving into the content. Pull ideas from here!
- Jot down ideas on your phone as you engage with phenomena on a daily basis that could be used in your classroom. It could be something you read in the news, see on a drive, or hear your toddler ask you (seriously, my 2.5 year old is CONSTANTLY noticing phenomena and asking me about them!!)
I like to keep a running list I add to for each unit because I don’t use the same ones every year. I find them most effective if I tailor which I use to my group of students and their interests!
Practice makes perfect. Just get started!
I know this sounds simple, and it is. But like most things, the more you do it, the more natural it will be for you AND for your students! It will become part of the culture of your class. But it won’t happen overnight! It takes time!
If you are looking for a shortcut, there isn’t one. BUT I will say, the more inquiry-based teaching you can do, the better because it will get your students more quickly acclimated to asking questions and discussing content without knowing all the answers.
Anything I’ve missed?? What other tips would you add to engage students in discussions? I’d love to hear!!