Want Better Discussions? Frame the Conversation

Just as important as the verbal interactions we use with students, we must also be aware of our non-verbal behaviors. Eye-contact, smiles, looking interested, and open body posture can make the environment feel much more open and welcoming. When we relax and employ these more positive nonverbal behaviors, students tend to engage in and contribute to classroom discussions (Herman, 2008).

Teachers can improve student to student conversation nonverbally by paying attention to their position in the classroom. When teachers move away from students that are talking toward the other side of the room, we remove ourselves from being the center of attention, encourage students to listen to each other, and encourage the student who is talking to speak at a volume loud enough to reach us from farther away. Thoughtful classroom movement also helps the teacher manage the classroom by discretely redirecting students.

To get students to engage in meaningful conversations, we need to teach them how to do so. To help them frame the conversation, consider the following strategies.

  • Be clear about the purpose–help students understand how a discussion can be a learning experience and frame the conversation by being clear about the purpose.
  • Write first–giving students time to organize their thoughts by writing down a few things they want to contribute, they are much more likely to join the conversation.
  • Use Sentence Stems–help students by providing a structure for engaging in the discussion. Posting phrases such as “I agree because…”, “To piggyback off of what___ said…”, and “I have a different idea…” can help students develop the language necessary for productive conversations. Sentence stems can help students agree, disagree, ask for clarification, add to an idea, or explain their idea. As students learn to use these starters, you may not need to post them any more.
  • Have Students Summarize the important insights from the discussion—classroom discussions tend to just end without processing or summing up. To help students see the value of the discussion, have them do a write-pair-share at the end of the discussion to summarize the ideas discussed.

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