This activity requires students to reflect on their knowledge in order to explain their reasoning to one another. The question you ask students must be difficult enough for students to benefit from conferring with their peers. If everyone can answer the question quickly on their own, then there is no reason to confer and students can drift off-topic.
Three Step Process
- Ask the class a relatively difficult question related to the material you are covering in class that day. Multiple-choice questions work best for this (put the question on the board or overhead). Give students about 30-60 seconds to think about the question individually. If you use a classroom response system, like iClickers, then have students enter their answer.
- Then allow students to confer with others, either in groups or simply by talking to the person next to them. Encourage them to find someone close by who has a different answer. "Come to consensus with your neighbor on the right answer" is a nice way to spur discussion.
- Finally, after giving students some time to talk, reconvene the class and ask students to share what they discussed. If the question you asked has a correct answer, an effective way to begin the discussion is to ask someone who got the correct answer why they chose it. Knowing they got the correct answer can embolden one to speak, even in a very large class.
Students will be more interested in each others' thoughts if you ask them to make a decision first as individuals and then in pairs. A simple example is a multiple choice question, which you ask students to think about individually and then ask them to convince their neighbor of their answer. When you reconvene as a whole class, you can then ask pairs to report back their decision with a show of hands, and ask pairs who came up with different answers to share their thinking with each other.
Sometimes, the person who has just learned something can be the very best teacher of that concept. Students working with each other can recognize misconceptions in their peers that we as teachers may have overcome a decade or more ago--and possibly even forgotten were possible.
King, A. (1993). From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41(1). 30-36.
Lyman, F. (1981). The responsive class discussion. In A.S. Anderson (Ed.), Mainstreaming Digest. College, Park, MD: University of Maryland College of Education.