When students speak up in class and conversations develop, you can feel the energy in the classroom. Concepts get discussed in-depth. Ideas start to fly.

You already know that you can encourage conversation by incorporating creative questioning into your lessons. Beyond questioning, there are many instructional strategies you can place in your critical thinking toolbox to increase student participation.

Why classroom conversation leads to depth of knowledge

You’ve seen it yourself. Learning can be a social activity. When students collaborate with their peers, they dig deeper into subjects. However, students often don’t know how to enter or extend a conversation. As you’re implementing Common Core lesson plans this year, consider teaching strategies that involve peer-to-peer discussion. As students interact with each other using prompts and direction from you, they automatically learn to connect ideas on a more sophisticated level.

Teaching strategies to encourage conversation

  • Provide students with a list of sentence starters and connectors or post them around the room. Encourage students to use the sentence starters during class discussions. Imagine students developing their own conversations using sentence starters like: “I agree/disagree because” “I can connect to your statement because” and “Can you clarify what you mean by…?”
  • Throw a devil’s advocate card into the mix. Before discussions, secretly give the card to one student with the understanding that the student will add opposing views to the dialogue. Remember to demonstrate to the student how to make constructive and respectful arguments.
  • Try a fishbowl arrangement, positioning desks in an inner circle and an outer circle. The students in the innermost circle discuss a topic, while the students in the outermost circle observe and evaluate the conversation and arguments.

It also helps to choose topics that are meaningful to students or have students choose from a list of topics relevant to them. Your role is to facilitate conversation so that the students have an opportunity to step up and lead.

More talking leads to learning

By establishing an environment where students feel safe asking questions and providing opinions, you foster an atmosphere that encourages critical thinking and idea development.

Setting up specific conversational activities, changing room arrangements, and providing students with explicit tools to engage in peer-to-peer conversations help even the most reluctant students become part of a critical thinking community. With guidance, students can engage in thoughtful, meaningful conversations that are the cornerstone of critical thinking.