Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Making the Most of Discussion Partners in the Classroom

"Discussion Partners" are partners that work on an activity, reading assignment, project, or other assignment together and then discuss what they've learned or complete a written activity.
Why use Discussion Partners? 
Research has shown that students not only need to read and write but also need to discuss (or talk) about a new concept or skill to really learn and fully understand it. According to the University of Washington, "A well-planned discussion can encourage and stimulate student learning and add variety to your class.  While “good” discussions can be a powerful tool for encouraging student learning if done correctly." 
In My Classroom:
At the start of each unit, I have students set up their "Discussion Partners" for the entire unit. It's a quick 15 minute activity that will make our transitions into partner work seamless for the next 4 to 6 weeks. Setting it up takes a little practice for the students but by the second unit they've got it down and look forward to it (as much as I do!)
What it Looks Like: 
It consists of a map with 3-5 cities or countries listed below the map where the students will write the name of their Discussion Partner at each destination. 
However, it's not as simple as that! There are guidelines that students must follow in order to pick their Discussion Partners and this must be taught and practiced like every other classroom procedures. For example,  look at the working partner example below for ancient Rome. Below the map, you will see 5 cities listed where students will meet with that chosen partner. 
How it Works: 
Give the students specific guidelines they must follow when setting up their "Discussion Partners." I write the 5 requirements on the board. For example, I might say, "For Rome you will need to find someone in this class who is born in a different month than you. In Florence, you must work with the opposite sex (boy-girl). In Venice, you must find someone who gets to school by a different mode of transportation than you. In Naples, you must work with someone who you've never worked with before in this class. In Milan, you may work with a friend. (I always let them have one friend partner for each unit.) Each unit it's a different set of guidelines, except for the friend and working with someone different. I tell them that by the end of the year, they will have worked with everyone in the class. I also tell them that you don't have to like everyone but you do have to work with them in a courteous and team-like manner just like in the real work world. 
Next, model for them how to ask someone nicely to be their partner. 
Other Rules: 
I let the students know that they will have 6-8 minutes to find all five discussion partners and then sit back down at their desk. I tell the students that, "When I call time, if you don't  have a partner for one or two of the cities then I will choose your partners for you." This helps to encourage them to get it done themselves. Also, if you have a odd number of students in that class, then tell them that you have the last say in deciding who the group of 3 will be or if you want someone to work alone. 
Lastly, practice it. Don't expect the first time to go perfectly. This is work in progress so to speak! It's probably new to them so give them feedback on how to make it go smoother. Then practice it again. I use it for all my units in social studies throughout the year. I have found it's well worth the extra time in the start of each unit because at any point during the unit, I can just say, "It's time to meet with your Naples Discussion Partner to read the article about the Roman Republic and answer the questions that follow. You have fifteen minutes to complete the reading and questions together...go!"
Check out the following social studies units:


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