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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! It’s typical for middle and high school ELA teachers to close our classroom doors and “do our own thing.” However, as I learned this year, the best resources that teachers have in their school are their own co-workers. One of the teachers in my school introduced me to a new way to facilitate and improve conversation in the classroom—by doing a silent discussion. Ok, 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.
First of all, what are silent discussions? Silent discussions is an activity that has your ELA students respond to a variety of discussion questions in writing before sharing with the rest of the class. Students circulate the room silently at their own pace and move to questions of their choice, responding to prompts and other students’ opinions. You can get FREE Silent Discussions by clicking here.
The first thing you’ll want to think about when preparing a silent discussion is the discussion questions themselves. When I first tried this activity, I was starting a class novel unit (The Giver by Lois Lowry), so we used discussion topics that were relevant to the themes in the novel. For example, some of the questions included were:
It is 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 ethical prompts. The questions put students in ethical dilemmas and have them explain what they would do in each situation. They absolutely LOVE these…
At the beginning of the activity, you will want to number off students according to the number of questions you have. I had a class of 25. We used 11 different discussion questions and that number seemed to work quite well. If you go have 11 different discussion questions, for example, you’ll go around the classroom and assign each student a number from 1 – 11. Then repeat. Keep in mind that it’s okay for more than one student to get the same number.
Project or write the discussion questions on the board, numbering them. Get each student to take out a piece of paper and write down the question associated with the number that you assigned to them. If you use the FREE silent discussion activity, students will write their questions in the space given beside the word “TOPIC” as shown below.
Ok, now you’re ready for the silent discussion itself to begin. Here’s how it works…
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 of 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.
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. By this point, your students have already engaged in meaningful discussion with one another through writing, and so not only will they be warmed up, but they will also have plenty to talk about during your open discussion.
There are many benefits to doing silent discussions with your ELA classroom. For one thing, silent discussions can be a great way to improve class discussion when no one wants to talk. Here are some more perks of this activity:
I provide more tips for engaging a reluctant classroom in another post. Click here to read it now.
I hope you found this helpful and that you and your students have fun with this silent activity!
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