Ask a Mentor
By Gabe Kraljevic
Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay
I am working to implement more science discussions in my classroom. What are some useful strategies for keeping the conversation on topic?
I think the keys to successful science discussions are planning, preparing, and pacing.
Planning will involve assigning students to groups, deciding which approach to use to engage all the students, knowing what kind of end product you want, and choosing how you will manage transitions and how you will collate and present the ideas that arose from the discussions. Build in ways to accommodate students who are uncomfortable talking or who need time to formulate their ideas. A tip for engaging students: “Wow” them with a great demo, funny story, or short video clip to introduce the discussion topic.
Preparing your students to argue scientifically, to listen, and to respectfully respond cannot be taken lightly. For a successful interplay of ideas, you must make sure all students get a voice and are not dominated by those who are more outspoken. Using graphic organizers can help them record their thoughts before any interactions and will facilitate sharing. I have used this organizer in the past.
Discussions will fizzle or wander off topic if you don’t set and maintain the pace. Monitor discussions to make sure students are not lagging behind or bored. You may want to implement several small, quick introductory segments to start the conversation and build to a more protracted, deep-thinking discussion. I suggest starting with pairs and slowly building to larger groups.
The toughest part of class discussions is staying out of them! Be a facilitator and let the young minds work. While you may have a vision of what you want from these discussions, allowing students to get there on their own will be very powerful learning—and may surprise you!
Hope this helps!