About This Teaching Strategy
This teaching strategy was designed for use in UK classrooms. Teachers in other contexts may choose to adapt it for their students.
A people’s assembly is a powerful process, which gives students the opportunity to review and discuss a topic, text or question before feeding their ideas back to the class. Students work in groups and take it in turns to share their ideas, using hand signals to communicate with and respond to each other. The discussion is managed by a student facilitator and recorded by a student note-taker, who is also responsible for feeding ideas back to the class. This strategy boosts student independence, creates an inclusive space, and develops students as active listeners. It can also help increase student confidence and assist with community building.
Some people’s assemblies run with three values at their core 1 , which are a powerful means of grounding the discussion and creating a culture of respect:
- Inclusivity: Everyone’s voice is valued and everyone has the right to be heard. No one person dominates the discussion. The loudest voice is not always right: a people’s assembly is about sharing ideas and learning from each other. Everyone feels respected, and able to participate safely without fear of judgement or ridicule.
- Active Listening: Everyone genuinely listens to what others are saying, and participants are not thinking in advance about what they are going to say.
- Trust: Everyone has belief in the assembly process, in the hand signals, in the facilitation, the note-taking, and in the sharing of ideas. Participants acknowledge that the process won’t be perfect, but it will only work if everyone trusts in the process and works together.
- 1These values are based on those in Extinction Rebellion’s People’s Assembly Manual.
Steps for Implementation
Give students the information that they will be discussing in their groups. This could be a text or the unit that students have studied. Whatever the stimulus, ensure that students have enough information to be able to engage thoughtfully in the discussion.
Explain to students what question they will be discussing in their breakout groups. It is worth projecting it or writing it on the board so students can refer to it throughout.
Explain the hand signals to the students as they will need these when discussing the topic or question. The hand signals that can be used with your students are as follows:
- Clarification: If someone in the circle does not understand something a peer has said, they make a ‘C’ symbol with their hand, which means clarification. The facilitator should then give them the opportunity as soon as it is polite to ask a question about what they are confused about.
- Point: If someone wants to respond or add to what another person has said either in agreement or disagreement, they can point a finger upwards. This means they have a related point. The facilitator, however, does not need to go to them immediately; they can go to them after the person has finished speaking. However, if point-requests are preventing all students in the circle from talking, then the facilitator should wait until everyone has spoken before they refer to those who wish to make points.
- Round Up: Finally, if someone is talking for too long, the facilitator can do a shape of a circle with their hands to request that they round up – it is up to you to decide whether or not this signal will work with your class. It can be omitted and you can give one student the role of timekeeper if you feel it might cause conflict.
Traditional people’s assemblies have more hand signals; however, given the fact that students are likely to be doing this for the first time, it is helpful to keep it simple, and to keep the exercise as one in which all students are able to take it in turns to express their views.
If desired, you may wish to write the hand signals on the board alongside the question that students are discussing.
Divide students into breakout groups of six to eight. Ensure each group has a note-taker, who records the ideas that are shared, and a facilitator, who manages the discussion to ensure everyone gets to share their viewpoint. Students can self-select, or you can assign each of these roles to two students from each group.
In their groups, ask students to sit in a circle and go round in a set order, ensuring that everyone gets to share something. Inform students that they should use the hand signals as outlined. It is the facilitator who watches for these hand signals and manages them, trying to ensure that no one person dominates.
Invite the note-takers to the front of the classroom to share their group’s key ideas with the rest of the class.
Following a people’s assembly, it is important to build in time for students to reflect in journals and/or a class discussion. The following prompts can help spark this reflection:
- What new, different, or deeper understanding of the input – the text(s) or essential question – do you have after participating in the people’s assembly?
- What was it like participating in a people’s assembly?
- How did using the hand signals feel?
- How easy or difficult was it to be an active listener?
- How easy or difficult was it to trust in the process?
- What, if anything, made this process feel inclusive? What, if anything, made this process feel exclusive? What could you do or the group do to make the process more inclusive for everyone?
For more teaching strategies designed for UK Educators, view our PDF resource Teaching Strategies.
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