Learning about Issues through Discussion in the Primary Social Studies Classroom: A Shared Inquiry Approach, pp. 9 of 16

Choosing participation structures

Identifying participation structures for activating and sustaining thinking, regaining momentum or focus and increasing participation is part of the preparation for class discussion. To activate student thinking, teachers can ask students to write something related to the discussion topic or talk with their partners to focus their thinking and learn from their friends. Another warm up activity would be the “People Graph” by asking students to reflect individually before getting them to stand on a spot that best reflects their positions regarding a statement posed by the teacher, followed by a mini-discussion based on the graph. Teachers can also use the online platform, paired responses and small groups to facilitate the discussion. To regain momentum of discussion when it starts to wane, structures such as Think-Pair-Share (TPS) or Turn and Talk can be utilized. To refocus student attention on the discussion, it is helpful to pose a variation of the opening question, one that is connected to the focus question. Finally, to increase participation, it may be necessary to provide a time out for students to consolidate their thoughts and record them and think of a question to ask for the discussion.   

Considering organisational issues  

Lastly, the size of the discussion group and configuration of classroom furniture need to be considered at the preparation stage. Where size is concerned, the question to consider is whether it is a teacher-led whole class discussion, small group discussions or student-led discussions, or whether it is going to be a fishbowl or inside-outside circles whereby teacher and student discussants sit in the inner circle and the other students sit in the outer circle to listen and take notes with the understanding that they will swap with those in the inner circle during the discussion. Depending on the group size, classroom furniture can be arranged in the form of a large circle, inside-outside circles or a U-shape.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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