Why Talking in Class is Actually a Good Thing!
Five Reasons to Have Peer Discussions
"She talks nonstop"
"She disrupts class constantly talking to her friends"
"Seriously, she doesn't stop talking"
No, I'm not talking about that one kid in your class. I'm talking about me. This is what I imagine my teachers said about me when I was in school. And they wouldn't be wrong.
I talked all the time, I just could not be quiet. Every day from kindergarten through college, teachers were asking me to stop talking (except for this one day when a classmate yelled, "I bet Janelle could never be quiet for 30 minutes!" And my need to win beat out my need to talk).
In the years since being in school and Karma bringing me some especially chatty students, I've thought a lot about talking in class and the role it plays. And the longer I teach, the more I think conversation is one of the greatest tools for learning.
And by conversation, I don't mean talking for the sake of social interaction (although, it's not bad to have some of that too). I'm talking about class discussions, more specifically, one-on-one and small group discussion guided by a specific protocol and defined academic agenda.
Five Reasons to Have Peer Discussions
So why exactly is talking in class a must? Well, let's explore. Here are five reasons to have peer discussion in your classroom:
1) Students are great teachers
Students have a way of talking to each other and teaching one another in a manner teachers aren't able to. I can't count how many times students have broken down a complex topic and explained it to other students in a way that never crossed my mind (and totally changed the way I teach it in the future).
2) Checks Understanding (A Formative Assessment)
If you don't really understand something, you definitely can't explain it well. By asking students to verbally explain their thinking, you quickly see what they know and what they don't know.
During a class discussion, I wander around listening to students, asking questions here and there. In just a few minutes, I have a pretty clear understanding of where my students are and I'm able to adapt my instruction accordingly.
3) Challenges students to defend their thinking
In a discussion, we're often challenged to defend and back up our thinking with credible evidence. Therefore, students can't just speak nonsense and guess at answers. Rather, they must be able to support their reasoning by showcasing a deeper level of understanding.
4) Expands understanding
We can learn so much from people when we listen with an open heart and mind. The beautiful thing about conversation is that everyone has their own unique point of view, allowing two people to look at the same situation but see something completely different. If we listen to learn, every conversation becomes an opportunity to grow.
5) Gives everyone a voice
Perhaps most importantly, one-on-one or small group discussion gives every student the chance to talk. You know how it goes, every class period the same three students give their input. And as insightful as they may be, those kids take up all the energy, not leaving any space for other voices to emerge.
Peer Discussion in Your Classroom
I gotta be real with you. I haven't always been great at giving students an opportunity to talk, remember I'm a talkaholic. But over the years, I've started to add a lot of class discussion into my lessons. Usually, we have three or so discussion times each class period - - during the entry task, when teaching the main concept, and then to debrief at the end of the class.
What about you? Do you enjoy leading peer disucssions? If yes, I'd love to hear your best tips!
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A middle school health teacher turned curriculum developer (and #WAHM). I'm on a mission to share the easiest-to-teach, most impactful health lesson plans on the Internet. Because your time and energy is better spent on teaching and connecting, not on planning and prep.