A few months ago Jared Dees of The Religion Teacher, wrote about 10 Teaching Strategies for Class Discussions. They are all great ideas for engaging students in the topic at hand.  Jared writes from his experience when he was a full time teacher in a school (so some of this is harder for a religious education setting, but most of his suggestions are also great for a Religious Education classroom).

• Popsicle Sticks and Note Cards – Use popsicle sticks or note cards with the students’ names on them to call on students randomly. This will keep students listening to the questions if they know they might be called on to answer. You can also use these to make sure all of the student have participated in a certain day.

• Ball Toss – To add a little fun and excitement, use a soft ball (or rolled up sock) to designate the single person that is able to speak. When another person wants to participate, they can raise their hand and wait for the ball to be passed to them. The teachers should also request the ball to speak.

• Think-Pair-Share – Give the students some time to formulate their answers to questions by working on them individually (“think”), then discussing their responses with a partner (“pair”), and finally sharing with the class what they discussed (“share”).

• Chalktalk – Write a word or phrase on the board. Give a few students markers (chalk) to write words or responses that they associate with the word or phrase. Once they have finished, they can give the markers to another student. Warn the them that there is no talking during the activity, only writing. Have the students without markers copy what students write on the board and write their personal thoughts to ensure that it stays quiet.

• Devil’s Advocate/Provacation – As the teacher/catechist, try to defend a statement that is outrageous or controversial. Make the students really believe that you mean what you say and they will be much more likely to discuss and debate. Rehash the discussion aftwards.

• Talking Chips – Distribute poker chips or tickets that can be used to participate in class. This will make sure that certain students do not dominate the discussions.

• Fishbowl Discussion – Select a group of students to sit in the front of the room in chairs arranged in a half-circle facing the class (shaped like a bowl). Pose questions to the students in the front of the room and allow them to discuss. The rest of the students in the audience may raise their hands to pose a question or take the place of a student “in the fishbowl” but they may not speak or engage in the discussion while at their desks. Note that this often requires that the students have learned/researched a lot about a topic before they can have a meaningful discussion such as this.

• Class Grid – This comes in handy for larger classes. Divide your seating chart into four quadrants (you don’t necessarily need a chart) by drawing two lines diving the paper up. Make check marks or dashes each time you call on a student in that part of the room. This will ensure that you are calling on students in each part of the room and not just the front (or side).

• Class Discussion Checklist – Print out a list of students in a table with days of the week on top of the table (or use your gradebook). Place a checkmark on the day next to the name of each student that participates in class. Note: it can be difficult to recall who participated afterward so make sure you check people off while they speak. This is challenging when you wish to be engaged in the discussion yourself.

• Discussion Rubric – When I graded class discussions my rubrics typically looked something like this:

A – Paraphrases, acknowledges, or refutes information related to the topic, reading, lecture, etc.
B – Showed comprehension of topic, reading, lecture, etc. Make good comments/arguments that may not be related to the reading/lecture.
C – Participates by actively paying attention by listening, watching, and/or taking notes.
D – Does not participate and shows minimum attentiveness to discussion
F – Shows unwillingness to participate and disrupts the discussion

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