Many teachers have lamented that post-pandemic students do not like to speak in class. Presentations are uninspired. Student podcasts sound robotic and scripted. The in-class speech has become an endangered species. In the hopes of ending this nightmare, I will be presenting the following sequence to re-energize speaking activities in January. We will start with Constructive Conversation Skills, then move to Hexagonal Thinking, next practice The Civil Conversation, and lastly play Socratic Smackdown.
The Constructive Conversation Skills poster or placemat from Zwiers, O’Hara, & Pritchard (2014) can be used as a low stakes, five minute warm-up or cool-down where students discuss the day’s content with a thought partner. I print out the poster and give each student a different colored pen so they can cross out each sentence stem after they practice the four conversational skills. How many practice reps will students need before demonstrating improvement? Walk around the room and monitor their conversations. Offer encouragement.
The Hexagonal Thinking strategy was developed by Betsy Potash and featured on the Cult of Pedagogy blog where there are templates for both paper and digital versions. Here is the three-minute explainer video that I didn’t have time to show. This is another low-stakes activity that will guide your students in discussing academic content. I would recommend trying it with 6-12 terms and names students should know. Give them a short amount of time, maybe five minutes, and see how many hexagons they can connect and explain. To increase rigor you can add more terms and time. I have asked my students to record two-minute Flip videos of these conversations to give them practice explaining their reasoning.
Next the Civil Conversation from the Constitutional Rights Foundation requires students to annotate, question, discuss, track, and reflect on a structured small group discussion. Introverts or observers complete flow or tally maps to track participation. Then they jump in to the next round as active conversationalists. They will have more confidence because they have just watched a session and learned the content. You can provide whole-class feedback after reviewing student reflections and help the class set goals for the next civil conversation.
Lastly the Socratic Smackdown from the Connected Learning Alliance is the most structured of these activities and will require some planning and patience. Think purposefully about grouping and assigning roles. Spend some time selecting your discussion strategies, training your scorers and debriefing with the instant reply and coach cards. You might consider practicing this again with colleagues during some of your planning time before trying it out in your class. This might take several rounds before you are satisfied with the quality of the conversations. Don’t give up.
I look forward to sharing EduProtocol hacks and tools that make speaking instruction inspirational instead of dreadful. Take a deep dive with me at the Los Angeles County Office of Education January 23 & 24, 2023. Sign up here.