This discussion format helps students develop their discussion skills, particularly their ability to listen to one another. It is especially useful when trying to discuss controversial topics.
Step One: Journal writing
Before sharing their ideas, it is important to give students the opportunity to clarify their own views. We suggest giving students five to ten minutes to write in their journals about the topic they will be discussing. After this writing time, ask students to underline or highlight the ideas they find most interesting or worthy or sharing.
Step Two: Sharing and listening in small groups
Divide the class into small groups of four or five students. Once students are in their groups they should appoint a facilitator to keep the group focused. Each student now has the opportunity to share a part of his/her journal entry with the group. During this go-around, no one should interrupt the speaker. When it is each student's turn to share, he/she should not directly respond to a point someone else has made. Instead, the sharing should focus on the individual's own feelings and reactions.
Step Three: Discussing
Drawing from what they just heard, small groups now have an open discussion. Before beginning this step, explain to students that this discussion is not about debating knowledge or arguing viewpoints. It is about listening to each other, and acknowledging our diverse array of thoughts, fears and hopes. Students should also be reminded that everyone will not necessarily agree, and that the goal is to better understand one’s own viewpoint and the perspectives of others. After 10-15 of discussion, groups should decide on two or three ideas from their conversation to share with the whole class.
Step Four: Group presentations
Small groups present their key ideas to the larger class. You can facilitate a whole-class discussion prompted by these ideas or you can proceed directly to personal journal reflections.
Step Five: Journal writing
Give students the opportunity to reread the journal entry they wrote at the beginning of this activity. Then, ask them to describe how their ideas have changed. Perhaps their ideas have grown stronger or maybe they have shifted a little. It is possible that some students have completely changed their attitudes or that the conversations have left them uncertain or with new questions. Prompts you might use to structure include: What did you learn from this activity? What questions are you left with? What did you learn more from – listening or presenting your own ideas? Explain your answer.
Students reflect, write, and engage in dialogues with their classmates in this exercise.