Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Engaging With Literature: A Workshop for Teachers, Grades 3-5

About This Workshop

Asking Questions: An Interactive Guide
1. Foundations

2. Looking at Literature

3. Starting Classroom Conversations

Introduction »

Key Points

Learning Objectives »

Background Reading »

Homework »

Classroom Connection »

Teacher Reflection »

Ongoing Activity »

Additional Reading »

4. Classroom Dialogues

5. Using Art and Other Disciplines To Enrich Classroom Conversations

6. Beginning the Year

7. Many Students: Many Voices and Abilities

8. Reacting to Students' Work

9. The Professional Teacher

Site Map

Workshop 3. Starting Classroom Conversations

Key Points

Students use technology to interact with literature. Authentic discussion is at the heart of an  envisionment-building classroom.

The processes of conversation—both talking and listening—help students think deeply about their reading.
  • Discussion allows students to hear and respond to ideas different from their own.
  • Discussion allows students to test their own thinking in the context of peer feedback.
  • Discussion helps students expand their understandings of both a text and the world.
Other key points include:
  • Open-ended discussions encourage genuine inquiry, thereby enriching student thinking.
  • Because language generates thought, discussions develop and expand understandings of texts.
  • Discussions can help participants confront significant moments in their lives.
  • Rich classroom conversations develop with practice when students feel the classroom atmosphere is safe and comfortable.
  • Students come to class with a rich array of personal experiences on which to draw during literary discussions.
  • Encouraging students to bring up their own ideas and experiences helps them assume increasing ownership of their discussions.
  • Envisionment-building teachers use extensive modeling of their own literary questions and responses as well as generative, open-ended questions to encourage and extend discussion.
  • Tools such as the Consensus Board (PDF), response journals, and a Question Board (a place where students write questions as they arise) can help students generate and organize material for discussions.
  • Teachers need to help students learn how to articulate authentic questions about texts and use them as starting points for literary conversations.
  • Encouraging and reinforcing the importance of good, thought-provoking questions from the students helps them expand their thinking and delve deeper into the literature.
  • Open-ended questions encourage the expression of multiple answers and multiple points-of-view, generating rich discussion.
  • Sometimes teachers need to ask questions that help students consider aspects of the text they might not have thought of on their own.
  • Questions indicate active engagement with a text and an attempt to resolve problems.
  • Respect is an essential part of a literary community and a key element in good discussions.
  • Placing student ideas, questions, and concerns at the center of the discussion honors student reading processes and their participation in texts.
  • Helping students reflect on their discussions—what worked and what needed improvement—helps students improve conversational skills.
  • Silences during discussion may mean that a question needs to be rephrased or that students need time to consider it thoughtfully.
  • Classroom arrangements where students can gather in a circle and see one another support full-class discussion; tables or desks grouped together for four to six students encourage small-group conversations.
  • Asking students to prepare ahead of time for discussion gives them an opportunity to organize their thoughts about their reading and leads to rich conversations.
  • Teachers sensitive to individual personalities and the nuances of group discussion find ways to invite quieter students into conversations.

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