I truly believe that the best resources that teachers have in their school are their coworkers. Middle and high school teachers are more likely to close their classroom doors and “do their own thing”. This school year, the grade 9 and 10 English Language Arts team at my school vowed to open up our doors to share more resources and ideas, and WOW did it make a difference!
One of the teachers in my school introduced me to a new way to facilitate conversation in the classroom – using silent discussions
. Okay, I know what you’re thinking – this oxymoron makes no sense, but stay with me for a few minutes because this activity made for the best classroom discussion I have ever had.
Read below to learn how it works
1. Develop Discussion Questions
I was starting a class novel The Giver
by Lois Lowry, so we used discussion topics that were relevant to the themes that would develop in the novel. For example, some of the questions included were
1. Do you think a world without pain would be a utopia?
2. Would you like to live in a world of “sameness”? Why or why not?
I had a class of 25, and we used 11 different discussion questions and that number seemed to work quite well.
It is also worth mentioning that you don’t necessarily even have to use questions related to something you are studying. I have also done a general silent discussion using a packet of ethical prompts I developed. The questions put students in ethical dilemmas and have them explain what they would do in each situation. They absolutely LOVE these prompts.
2. Number Students Off
If you have 11 different discussion questions, for example, go around the classroom and assign each student a number from 1 – 11 (then repeat – it is okay if more than one student gets the same number).
3. Students Write Their First Question
Project or write the discussion questions on the board and number them. Each student takes out a piece of paper (or use this free template
) and writes the down the question associated with the number you assigned them.
4. Let the Silent Discussion Begin!
Students begin by writing a response to the question they were first assigned. When they are done, they get up and circulate the room (silently) waiting for someone else to be done. They sit down at their new seat, read their new question and what the person had written before them, and write their own response! Their response could be to the original question or to something that another student has written before them. Tell students if they arrive at a question they have already answered to choose another place. Some teachers choose to also give students a minimum number of responses they have to make, but I had some struggling writers, so I just let them move about at their own pace.
Also, keep in mind that sometimes (especially early on), students may have to stand and wait a couple minutes to find a new place to sit! I spent about 30 minutes doing this, but you could do it for a longer or shorter period depending on your class’ stamina.
5. Open Discussion
Let students return to their seats and read their original discussion topic. Then, as a class, go through each of the questions one at a time and have an open discussion. Encourage students to reference what others have said from the sheet in front of them.
The Benefits of a Silent Discussion
1. When you do the open discussion at the end, students are far more inclined to speak as they have had a chance to process the information, read the thoughts of their peers, and formulate their own opinions.
2. Not all students will have completed the same questions, so you are likely to get different students participating for different questions.
3. It makes for 30 minutes of almost complete silence, which can be nice for a teacher headache.
4. If it is related to something you are studying, you can return to the discussion questions at the end to see if their opinions have changed.