A Discussion Strategy WIN!

Over the last several years at my school, I've been able to teach every grade level. Most of my time has been in a co-taught class for sophomores that combines Pre-AP English II with AP World History. For the most part, that means my learners are mostly studious. They like to learn and write and while they complain about any kind of homework (they are still human, after all), a majority of them will do the homework. In addition to this, I have also gotten to teach AP Literature and Creative Writing.

This year, I’ve gotten to teach the Juniors. It’s been hard. No cap, as the youth would say.

For the first time in a while, I’m teaching on-level English to Juniors. Most of them have found their passions in the math/science department. Many of them took my class as sophomores and needed a break from the academic rigor of the AP class. Some of them have very little academic confidence. All of them have something important to say.

One of my ongoing struggles in this class is inspiring the learners to have something to say. Working with my team of English facilitators, we have recently begun reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. If you haven’t read it (I was in this category before this project!), I would encourage you to pick that book up quickly! It’s really good for a lot of reasons, but my favorite thing is that it has inspired —FINALLY— my learners to talk about the book in a way that goes beyond the “what if” questions they are naturally drawn to.


I have made two simple changes to the discussions in this project where about 50% of my learners do not like to talk. About anything. Ever.

The first is having them number off at the beginning of the discussion, something my school’s academic facilitator had us do in a recent professional development. My own personal epiphany that had me thinking, oh yea, I used to do this a lot more.

So, my learners come into class. Their first task is to number themselves off. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.



Then, I pop this slide up on the board.

A modification from the TQE Method (Thoughts, Questions, Epiphanies) I learned about through the Cult of Pedagogy, this is a guide to help learners discuss a text and develop their own Thoughts, Questions, and/or Epiphanies.

Each learner is responsible for facilitating the discussion at their table for their question. I went down the list one through five. On that person’s turn, they asked the question, provided their answer, and then the discussion opened to the rest of the table.

Now, for the discussion part, it’s a little harder. Some kids have a lot to say, some think they have nothing to say, and others spend their time trying to derail the discussion. Another gem I found through the Cult of Pedagogy was a collection of discussion sentence stems on a bookmark. I gave each learner one of these and had them choose one stem they wanted to try.

At the end of the discussion, I had an exit ticket asking which stem they tried, if any, and how it went. It was simple, but I learned which of my learners found these stems helpful.

As with all of education, just because it works once doesn’t mean it will work everytime. And no matter what, if the learners don’t care about what they are learning or reading, discussions just aren’t as effective as we want them to be. As facilitators, we have to find the spark that inspires them to care. After we complete that super easy work (haha), we can begin using protocols that support learner voice in the classroom.

If this helps, let me know! If you have other ideas, also, let me know. As educators we are all better when we work together.

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a year ago

I recently tried TQE for the first time as well and loved it!

What to expect here: 

We are trying something very, very new in my Creative Writing class. With the help of one of my learner interns, we created a website that will guide learners through the process of Creative Writing. Each step in the process requires learners to do research and learn about different creative writing skills, do some practice writing within that skill, and publish their writing to their Writing Portfolio. Each learner has created their own Writer's Portfolio using Google Sites that I can comment on as they travel through the writing process. You can check out the website here if you are interested in learning more. 

My goal is to go through that process alongside them and document it on this portion of my website. Hopefully, when all is said and done, this will be a space that combines some of my own practice writing alongside some of the practices that I have found effective in my classroom teaching.