Including All Students in the Conversation

I (Clive) am a great believer in whole-class and small-group discussion. However, three and four years ago I was terrorized by a series of individual students who dominated discussion in class, speaking at least 50% of the time – they would have talked 90% if I’d let them. I’m sure they did the same in their small group, if I wasn’t in the group.
This forced me to develop a set of techniques for giving everyone a turn. They’re simple but effective. Most students appreciate them, and they’ve enabled me to relax and not always be cutting people off (though I still have to be firm). I wish someone had introduced me to them long ago.

     The techniques assume the class is no larger than 35 (I have any bigger class divided up) and is seated in a large circle (I arrange the seating before the students come in). They also assume that students get a lot of “air time” in class, otherwise it’s impossible for everyone to have a turn.

Here are the techniques:

  • Going around the room, with each student (or every 2nd or 3rd student) saying what they think about the topic in hand (don’t worry if you don’t get all the way round).
  •      Discussion in 2s and 3s around the room, followed by reporting from each group.
  • Numbering off to form small groups, followed by discussion and reporting back.
  • Individual prepared presentations (ungraded, maximum 4 minutes) – 2 to 4 per class – with 3 people to the left or right of the presenter responding.
  •       Whole-class discussion after a “mini-lesson” from me, with a speakers list formed as people put up their hands.

I find students are very glad to be called on in these ways: no one has ever declined. And the approach greatly strengthens community as we hear from and get to know everyone, including many who’ve been largely “voiceless” throughout their school and university career. It fosters oral literacy and results in truly inclusive education.

If anyone has other strategies, please let me know!

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