- identity the qualities of a good discussion.
- model strategies that encourage conversation about difficult topics.
- practice active listening.
- come to consensus regarding a shared list of discussion norms.
- engage in meta-conversation about discussion techniques.
- What does a good discussion sound like/look like?
- What is the individual's role in making a discussion run smoothly?
- What strategies can be used to deepen our conversations about books?
Fishbowl discussions are a great way to introduce Literature Circles for the first time. They can also serve as a re-framing device for students who have participated in Literature Circles before but are still refining their discussion skills. During fishbowl discussions some students model a discussion while others watch and record thoughts and impressions. After this type of observation, the class can work collaboratively to generate discussion norms, which is the start of a meta-conversation about what good, productive and meaningful conversations look like and sound like. This list of discussion norms can then serve as a guidepost for students when they begin their own student-directed discussions. If the Discussion Director has a moment of uncertainty or is unsure how to handle a particular comment or situation, the class norms are one resource she can look to for guidance.
Ask students to generate a list of the qualities that make a good conversation. Record these ideas on a piece of chart Students may offer ideas like "engaging topic" or "question-asking," etc.
- Distribute the shared text; in this case, The Bear that Wasn't. Ask students to read the text and take notes or jot discussion ideas in the margin as they read. Some of these suggestions may come from the list students had generated. For instance, if students suggested asking questions as a quality of a good conversation, encourage them to record questions as they read.
- Before students begin reading ask for 4-5 volunteers who are willing to model a discussion while other students watch.
- After students have had enough time to read, bring them back together. Arrange chairs in a circle with four chairs in the center for the discussants.
- Ask the students in the outer circle to observe carefully and record any aspect of the discussion which they believe enlivens the conversation. They can record these thoughts in a journal or on a paper and clipboard.
- Keep the discussion fairly brief. The students in the center can discuss for about ten minutes while the rest of the students watch.
- When the discussion is over, solicit feedback. Add to and alter the original list of what qualities contribute to an effective discussion. Students might add things like "using someone's name" or "asking follow-up questions."
- Although this should be a time to criticize the students who modeled the discussions, it may be useful to ask students what types of talk seemed to inhibit or shut down the discussion.
The end result of this lesson should be a compiled list of shared discussion norms. These norms should be flexible and viewed as a work in progress- a list which can be revised periodically during the unit.
Students could fill out an exit card that asks one or more of the following questions:
- What are some elements that make a discussion engaging? Why? What are some elements that make a conversation difficult? Why?
- What strategies can an individual employ to enliven a discussion?
- Discuss one element of a good discussion and why that particular element is important/necessary.
If students are familiar with socratic seminars, these could serve a similar purpose to the fishbowl discussion or could be used periodically during Literature Circles as a way to re-establish class norms and debrief difficult texts and issues as a class and with increased teacher presence.