Discussion Lessons

Please Note:  Grade level discussion lessons are available in the drop down menu under each specific grade level.

Article of Interest

“Discussions that Drive Democracy.” Education Weekly; Diana Hess (2011) 

Discussion Lessons on Project Tahoe use research based methods that have been proved to promote democratic discussion in the classroom.  Included in these strategies are Structured Academic Controversy (SAC), Philosophical Chairs,  Fishbowl, and Socratic Seminar. Strategies insure that the goal of the discussion is reached.  For example,

  • SAC insures the presentation of opposing view points and whole group consensus building.  Like the title suggests, it is structured and depends upon a controversial topic.
  • Philosophical Chairs is much like a debate.  A central topic or question is posed and students position themselves on a “Philosophical Spectrum” based on whether they agree, disagree or are neutral regarding the answer.  As the discussion progresses, if a student changes their mind, they physically demonstrate it by relocating themselves on on the spectrum.
  • Fishbowl helps students practice being contributors and listeners in a discussion as they rotate between an inner fishbowl contributing circle and outside listening circle.  This strategy  insures that all students participate in the discussion and allows the deep exploration of a controversial topic.
  • Socratic Seminar is what many teachers think of when they imagine classroom discussions.  The goal of SS a whole class, 100% participation deliberation where students more deeply understand ideas, issues, and values reflected in a specific problem, issue, or text.  Students are responsible asserting facts and evidence within text rather than asserting their opinions about the issue.

The following information is excerpted from the Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening from the  Common Core Standards and illuminates the significance of using discussion in your classrooms.

To become college and career ready, students must have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations—as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner—built around important content in various domains. They must be able to contribute appropriately to these conversations, to make comparisons and contrasts, and to analyze and synthesize a multitude of ideas in accordance with the standards of evidence appropriate to a particular discipline. Whatever their intended major or profession, high school graduates will depend heavily on their ability to listen attentively to others so that they are able to build on others’ meritorious ideas while expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

New technologies have broadened and expanded the role that speaking and listening play in acquiring and sharing knowledge and have tightened their link to other forms of communication. The Internet has accelerated the speed at which connections between speaking, listening, reading, and writing can be made, requiring that students be ready to use these modalities nearly simultaneously. Technology itself is changing quickly, creating a new urgency for students to be adaptable in response to change.


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