Thursday, August 16, 2012

Building Choice into Discussion

Shape Up Discussion Strategy
Students sit at tables in my classroom. They are grouped in a variety of ways: alphabetically, by reading/writing need, by gender or personality. Students are assigned by color, so they sit at tables labeled for colors in the rainbow. Chairs are numbered. If you sit at red number one then when I call "rainbow groups" you would get up and switch from the red table to the Rainbow #1 table.  I like the flexibility and choreography that goes into setting up the system. 

No matter how I’ve created my groups, I add a layer of choice by dangling shapes from the group signs. We use the shapes to spark and guide discussions, so before, during or after instruction (or reading) I can quickly say, “Think about your response to … Choose a shape that matches how you respond to the text/idea. Move to that group and discuss.” This is not a new discussion strategy. I’ve been asked in several trainings to choose a discussion table based on whether the ideas “are still circling” or if they “square” with my thinking. In my own classroom though, I needed more than four groups, so I added shapes and descriptions. Infinite possibilities for adaption.

Instructional Sequence: 
Read/view a common text.
Tell students to choose a discussion group based on their response to the text/ideas.
Give students time to talk in the shape group.
Switch groups for additional discussion rounds (if time).
Debrief the discussion as a whole class. What did you discover? What common ideas surfaced? What surprised you about the group’s discussion?

What shape fits your response? 
Circle:  The student wants to discuss ideas are still circling in their mind.  (need processing time before forming an opinion).
Square:  The student wants to discuss how or why the ideas “square” or agree with his thinking.
Star: The student wants to talk about what sticks (is memorable) or what poke at previous thinking.
Thumbs: The student wants to talk about which aspects of the text/idea he likes and why. 
Star Burst:  The student wants to discuss new or surprising components of the text.
Heart: The student wants to talk about which elements of the text or idea he loves. 
Parallelogram:  The student wants to talk about connections (or parallels) between this text and something else.
Triangle: The student wants to talk about  ways the text can affect change  or how he would ideas in the text and or  how the text is written.

I use the school's Ellison machine to cut out big shapes to dangle from the table signs. Then I label the shapes on both sides with a guiding question. See the labels-- or download, use and adapt them--from the Scribd link below. 


  1. Very cool. I think this will work w/ high school students, too.

    1. Thanks, Glenda,
      It does work with high school students. I've used it for a few years now and enjoyed the results. I teach ninth and eleventh grades. It's just an easy system to use to get kids up, moving and engaged.