How to Foster Positive Classroom Discussions in K-2
June 14, 2022
Looking to hold positive classroom discussions in kindergarten, first, and second-grade classrooms? In this post, I share 3 easy ways to facilitate meaningful and positive classroom discussions with your youngest learners! Before I dive in, I wanted to let you know you can watch or listen to all this information in video format below:
To read this information, just keep scrolling!
This post is all about positive conversations amongst your students, but if you’re looking for good phrases that you can use in your classroom as the teacher, check out my blog post here all about phrases for building student agency: Phrases to Build Student Agency
Alright, onto my 3 tips for fostering positive classroom discussion!
Tip #1: Create Classroom Norms for Discussion
It’s very important to show your class what respectful and positive conversations look like because it will not be obvious or natural for many of your students to do right away. You want to lay down the ground rules and create a classroom norm for discussion so your students will know what is expected of them during these conversations. Naturally, some of your younger students will want to speak a lot and many others will remain silent, happily listening or feeling too nervous to participate. By laying down these ground rules, students begin to see that all students in our class will be expected to participate.
In my classroom, I would put up a sign like the one below and describe what each part looks like and sounds like to my students. I would explain that we (usually) listen with our eyes by looking at who is speaking as a sign of respect, we listen with our ears by actively listening and paying attention to what they are saying, and we listen with our hearts by treating others how we would like to be treated. This simple act of creating classroom norms is something that can be done slightly differently based on your own classroom and students and it’s something you may want to create with him! Creating this poster is a great lesson within itself and then having it hanging up in the classroom is a reminder for your students every time you have these classroom discussions with your class.
Tip #2: Provide Sentence Stems
Sentence stems are a great scaffold for your students and help you to facilitate a positive classroom discussion. Students aren’t required to use sentence stems, but I strongly encourage them as they are a great tool for respectful conversation. They are also helpful for students who may not know what to say but would like to participate in the discussion. The photo below shows an example of some sentence stems that I would use in my classroom.
Sentence stems do a lot to facilitate positive classroom discussion because they link students together when they use phrases like “I agree with…”. Additionally, sentence stems like “I heard you say…” facilitate ways for students to revoice what another student said. The act of revoicing is a great tool for positive classroom discussions because it shows that you were listening, trying to make a connection, and honoring the other student’s opinion or idea.
Now I don’t force my students to use these, but they provide the support needed for students who may not know how to participate in a classroom discussion. The sentence stems also take some pressure off the teacher and give students more ownership.
Tip #3 Use Color-Coded Sticky Notes
Now when kicking off how to have a positive classroom discussion in class, we usually start with some easier topic. We talk about what we did over the weekend. We share our opinions with silly would you rather questions (see tons of kid-friendly ones here). But the long-term goal for these conversations is to be able to facilitate meaningful discussion around academic topics.
Academic conversation topics can be daunting because you want the discussion to be positive and respectful, but you also want to make sure that students are engaged, have enough to say, and want to participate. A helpful way to do this is to use color-coded sticky notes for your students to mark their ideas during independent reading.
For some examples shown above, you can have one color sticky note to mark “connections,” where the student would write down a connection that they were able to make about their own life to what happened in the book. You can also designate one color with a heart to mark something in the book that your students love. Another color sticky note can be marked “???” to mark any questions that they have. I also like to include another color for “wild card”, which you can use specifically to connect with any lesson that you might be working on at the time, such as inferences or character traits.
This activity is great because it gives your students purpose when they are doing their independent reading and it also preps them with a whole bunch of topics and conversation starters for when they move on to their discussions.
Those examples above are clearly from a fiction book, but you can use this same system with nonfiction books as well. I would remove the connection one and change it to “new learning” so students can record some new facts they’ve learned while reading!
So there are three of my favorite tips for creating positive classroom discussions in your classroom! How do you hold classroom talk in your room? Let me know down in the comments!
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