The greatest hurdles a teacher faces when engaging children in healthy conducive dialogue are diverting away from the topic and making the discussion relevant enough so that the student walks out of the classroom richer in knowledge and skill than he was when he first stepped in.

I’ve picked up some tips and tricks on how to make classroom discussions meaningful and fun at the same time, regardless of age.

Set ground rules: Assure children that they will not be judged. When children feel safe, they are more likely to share on a deeper level. There should be zero tolerance for derogatory, hurtful and slanderous statements. There should be no interruptions. Everyone should get a chance. The simplest way to make sure this happens is to announce that no student will get to make more than four comments (for the ones who keep on rambling) or less than one (for the child who won’t say anything). Setting ground rules really helps in the effectiveness of the discussion in terms of time management and discipline.

Shake it up: Open the ground to healthy back and forth between kids in either pairs or groups. The teacher can act as a mediator, only facilitating and not actually participating. Or have a one on one with the students. Have debates, have kids speak in rap, have kids communicate in sign language. Variety is key.

Keep it relevant: Veering off topic is an impediment to any good classroom discussion. To stay on track, make it a part of the rules. The key word is focus. Before starting the conversation, write out the statement on the board. Circle the topic and then underline the focus. The focus of the topic will keep children within the expected boundaries of the discussion. For example:

Should children be allowed to play violent video games?

Obviously, the topic is whether kids should be allowed to play video games, but the focus is on the word ‘violent’. This trick really works. Children begin to streamline their thinking. The teacher can have a little nonverbal cue for when he/she thinks that the discussion is going off track and students immediately steer themselves back.

Prepare: As with any good lesson plan, a classroom discussion needs planning and prepping. As a mediator, the teacher should be rich in additional knowledge of the assigned topic, so that he/she can move things along by scaffolding questions when things get slow or politely correct any statement that is false. He/she needs to have a system for monitoring the participation of every student to assess for understanding and reflection.

Closure: Help students to consolidate their learning by summarising the outcomes of the discussion. These may include any questions that remain unanswered. Morals and lessons learned should be highlighted. From personal experience, I know that time flies when we are involved in an engaging conversation and as a result, we often miss out on this vital step.

By: Rahima Jabeen

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