Promoting Accountable Discussion
Tips and Tricks
Having Students Pronounce Vocabulary
Academic vocabulary words are new to all students, and pronouncing new vocabulary words can be intimidating for many students. This affects their confidence and engagement with the vocabulary. I recommend that the class chorally pronounces each vocabulary word (yes, even in secondary classrooms!) so they become comfortable sharing the word out loud. Two ways to encourage choral pronunciation are:
- Parsing Syllables
Separating a word by syllables can help students gain confidence with pronunciation. In the case of sedimentation, for example, students can say each syllable, sed-, -iment-, -ation, after the teacher. For added effect, students can pronounce the full word a couple of times after they say each syllable.
- Multiple (Slow) Repetitions
In this strategy, the teacher models saying the vocabulary word several times very slowly, and then the students repeat the word. The number of times the teacher says the word depends on the needs of the class (I repeated the word up to seven times in my classes), but I recommend students repeat the word at least three times.
Having Students Discuss Questions Using Sentence Stems
Structured conversations about academic content is critical for students to share ideas and develop new levels of understanding. Strategies for setting clear expectations and structuring the language of the discussions, such as the Q-SSS-A strategy, are highly effective at engaging students in academic discussions. Below are some strategies to employ if students are not all sharing using the sentence stem:
- Proving ample think time by instructing the class to simply "think about the question" without answering it or by having students provide a signal to show readiness (detailed in the Q-SSS-A article linked above) can give students confidence to discuss using the sentence stem.
- Having students repeat the sentence stem chorally before they share with their partner can help focus them on the specific academic language to use.
- Specifying who speaks first in each group can help students share more equitably and remove any ambiguity about the conversation. For example, students can number off with in a group one through four, and the teacher can randomly choose a number to speak first in each group.
- Randomly calling on students promotes a sense of accountability and inclusion for students, and giving students the option of sharing what their partner(s) said reduces anxiety and communicates that there is no one right answer.
Appropriately Targeting Levels of Questioning
The questions and sentence stems in this resource are designed to progressively require students to think and discuss more deeply as they examine and re-examine the visuals. The first level is observational, so that students are simply describing what they see in the visual. The next level is relational, where students are making connections between this word and other words. The final level is inferential: what can they predict or infer about how this concept would play out in hypothetical contexts? These three levels and their alignment to Bloom's Taxonomy are described in the table to the right.
In a heterogeneous classroom environment, it is recommended to start students at the observational level so that they can apply and share their background knowledge about the vocabulary. When questioning students at the relational level, it will likely be important to expose the students to the other vocabulary word(s) the question is relating. For example, when exploring the visual about the word axis with the question, "How is the Earth's axis related to its rotation?," it is important that the students have seen the visual for rotation as well.
Helping Students Explore the Visual
Some students might need support in identifying finer details of visuals. Helpful strategies include:
- Having students simply describe the visual to their partner with a sentence stem such as "One thing I notice is..."
- Directing students to identify key words in the visual. For example, when looking at a visual for the word double helix, before asking the question, "How is DNA organized into a double helix?" the teacher can instruct students to find the word DNA in the visual.
Explaining What Certain Symbols Mean
There are many symbols repeatedly used throughout The Visual Non-Glossary. While many students can infer the meaning of these symbols as they pertain to the visuals, it may be helpful to create an anchor chart specifying exactly what they mean. To the left is an example anchor chart, which can be referred to throughout the year.
Tips and Tricks
Volume 3: Review/Preview with Discussion
March 30, 2021
Review - or Preview - by Having Students Guess The Word
As a warm-up/bell-ringer/do-now activity, display 3-4 visuals that have either previously been covered or will be featured in the lesson. Cover or crop out the words and questions and ask students to try to identify which words represent which visuals. This can be done with a word bank, without a word bank, or by giving students a word bank after they have guessed the words. It is important to remind students to provide some justification as to why they chose each word for each picture.
After students have brainstormed individually and the class has started, have students share in partners or small groups using a sentence stem such as "I think picture ___ represents ________ because..."
Specify Who Goes First
When having students discuss a visual in groups or breakout rooms, instructing very clearly who will speak first in the group can motivate groups to start talking and ensure equitable discussion within the group. This can be done using superlatives, such as "person with the longest hair" or "person whose name is closest to A in the alphabet."
This can also be done by setting up a lettering system. In an initial warm-up or group discussion, students can be instructed to each pick a letter (A, B, C, D, etc.). In subsequent discussions, groups can be instructed that a specific letter is going to speak first. This system can also be used to randomly call on students after a discussion (e.g., "Let me hear from Person C of each group").
Volume 2: Engaging Students in Discussions
January 26, 2021
Having students show a thinking signals is a powerful strategy for providing the right amount of wait time, as well as helping students focus on the question. Classic thinking signals include giving a thumbs up, lowering one's hand, or sitting down when ready. In virtual or hybrid lessons, students can be instructed to type a specific letter into the chat but to not send it until they are ready to answer the question. My favorite thinking signal, in any type of lesson: instruct students to point to the vocabulary word above the visual, or the sentence stem, and to not lower their fingers until they are ready to finish the sentence. This gives them think time while priming them to use the key vocabulary word in their responses!
Interaction without Breakout Rooms
In virtual and hybrid lessons, highly structured breakout room sessions are excellent for students to interact with the visual, processing the content and practicing the language. In addition to breakout rooms, here are some excellent options for online interaction:
Note: However the students interact, it is key to follow up interaction with whole-group sharing by randomly calling on one or more students. This signals to the students that their peer-to-peer conversations matter!
- Have students post a video on Flipgrid using the sentence stem, then instruct them to respond to other students' videos using stems such as "I agree/disagree with ____ because..." or "My response was different from ____ because..."
- Assign partners or groups, then instruct each group to send messages to each other on a specific shared document, Google Jamboard page, or Padlet post.
- Have students submit their complete sentences to the chat or a shared document or discussion board, then call on one or two students to unmute and read out loud their favorite response, giving credit to that student.
Volume 1: Beginning and End of the Lesson
December 1, 2020
Focus on 2-4 Words in Each Lesson
While many vocabulary words will come up in each lesson, we can help students master vocabulary by specifically focusing on 2-4 words in each lesson. For the following activities, think of 2-4 visuals from The Visual Non-Glossary to have students interact with during the lesson.
During the first 2-5 minutes of class when students are entering and getting settled, display the visual for one of the words and have students write down everything they notice in the visuals. When the time is up and everyone is ready, ask the students the first question in the visual and have them share their answers with their partners or breakout groups.
During the last 3-7 minutes of class, have students write an answer to the last question in the visual of one of the day's words. For added elaboration, have students provide examples and encourage students to use all of the day's 2-4 vocabulary words in their responses.
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