If your school district is like mine, you probably have a list of high-yield strategies near your computer to incorporate into every lesson plan. You know those walk-throughs are coming, and you are familiar with how much our admins love to see productive student discussion. I ask my kids to turn and talk frequently during instruction. Giving students an opportunity to talk about what we’re learning improves understanding and grasp of concepts. What do you do when you have a challenging group of students? How do you make sure kids stay on task and manage behaviors when you give them the chance to talk? Here are five ways I’ve devised to make sure students’ discussions stay focused and make the best use of instructional time.
Proximity Is Key
When I teach my ELA or social studies mini lessons, I pull all my fourth graders to the carpet in the center of the room. I used to leave students at their tables when I taught, but I found that they were too far away to effectively monitor discussions. I generally seat them on the outside perimeter of the carpet so that they are all facing me and no one can hide. When they turn and talk, I can easily listen to what they are saying just by moving quickly around the rug.
Assign Study Buddies
I’ve grouped my students in pairs and posted these groupings for each class of kids on mini pocket charts hanging on my front wall. I change these pairs around frequently to ensure that the groups stay productive. Having pre-planned partnerships keeps things organized and makes the lesson run more smoothly. Again, these pairs are seated on the carpet within earshot.
Give Discussions a Time Limit
When you ask a question or pose a discussion topic, give kids one to two minutes to discuss. Younger kids may benefit from visual time cues like an egg timer. You could also use a wind-up toy–when I taught second grade, I had a wind up sting ray, and I would challenge kids to come up with an answer before the ray stopped flapping. Creating this sense of urgency gives students a challenge and gets them excited about coming up with an answer before time’s up.
Keep Lessons Short
Mini lessons should stay well within your students’ range of attention span. Generally, kids can concentrate on new material for a number of minutes equal to their age. First graders can hang with you for about six minutes. Fifth graders can possibly make it for ten to eleven minutes. If you pepper your lesson with short bursts of discussion, you’ll keep your kids fully engaged during your instruction. Click To Tweet
Hold Students Accountable
Give your study buddies a white board and a marker to share. When you pose a turn and talk question, have your pairs write down their responses to share with the group. That way, you have a clear idea about what kids understand, and they will know expect an answer from every group.
Hopefully, these five strategies will help you manage student discussions and improve engagement. What ways do you monitor student talk? Share your ideas in the comment section below!