Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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About the Site Discussions

Download the Overview Materials in PDF

Choosing the Structure to Fit the Purpose

A list of Site Discussion questions is included in the material for each workshop. You and your colleagues are encouraged to spend 60 minutes discussing these questions after viewing the workshop video. The questions could simply be used in a traditional group discussion format, but better yet, they can (and we hope will) be used with the Structures described below. Fitting the appropriate Structure to the purpose and specific needs of your group is a step that will make the entire process more valuable and meaningful. One of the most important aspects of the Structures is that they allow you to make the most of the time you have. They also encourage a democratic process, as each is designed to maximize all voices and points of view (not always possible in a discussion left to chance). Furthermore, the Structures are good models for you to practice and bring back to your schools.

The Structures described below can be used with any of the sets of Site Discussions questions–but that does not mean they are "mix and match." The facilitator should give some thought to the purpose of the discussion session and choose the Structure that will best lead to the desired outcome(s), given the size and composition of the group. Attention should also be paid to having some variety so that the participants are not always doing the same kind of activity. It is also useful, as part of the debriefing process in each case, to ask, "Would you use this activity in your school?" This will encourage the expansion of the principals' professional development repertoiries.

All Structures and discussions should include debriefing. If you consider this an analytic process, it will seem less "touchy-feely" and more like critical thinking. If an activity is carried out but not reflected upon, a lot is lost. The meta-cognitive thinking that you want to take place cannot be taken for granted.

(to be done after each of the Structures described below)

Purpose: To reflect on the"why" of having done the activity, and on the learning, both individual and collective, that took place. In addition, this will reinforce the idea that these activities are meant as models and are hoped to inspire their use in schools and other local settings.

Questions: What? What new learning, if any, came up–either individually, or as a group?

So What? What meaning did it have for you?

Now What? How did this activity work for you and your group? Would you use it in your school/other setting? How would you modify it?



Purpose: To build consensus among members of the group.

Structure: Begin with pairs–agree upon an answer; then two pairs join and agree upon an answer. Depending upon numbers, the two pairs can also have fours join to form a group of eight. Discuss how answers changed with the added input–was it an improvement or did it lose something?


Purpose: To encourage individual thinking before discussion.

Structure: Ask members of the group to write individually for 5-8 minutes. Writing can then be shared in pairs who then report the issues/common themes which have emerged.


Purpose: To maximize opportunity for sharing thinking before a large group discussion.

Structure: Have pairs talk before opening up the discussion to the group. It is sometimes useful to ask members of the group to pair up with those they don't usually get to talk to.

Other Pair/Share Structures:

Appointments: Schedule appointments with three other people. Share ideas with the first appointment for 5 minutes, move on to the next appointment, etc. (We see an example of this Structure in the Whittier High School Math Department professional development meeting in Workshop 6.) Follow with a large group discussion.

Inside/outside: Form two large circles, one on the inside of the other. Ask the group on the inside to face the outside group. Converse with the person opposite you. After 5 minutes the outside group rotates clockwise. Talk with a second person, etc.

Constructivist Groups

Purpose: To build answers for difficult questions.

Structure: Form groups of five; each member has a number from 1 to 5. Each group answers the question, the facilitator calls a number and that number in each group gives the group's answer (which means each member of the group has to be prepared to answer). A different number is called on each time.


Purpose: To elicit everyone's input and ensure that all voices are heard. A simple, but powerful tool.

Structure: Simply say, "Let's go around–we can start anywhere, but then we'll go in turn." Model the idea that there will be no interruptions and no responses until the round is over. This can be called in the middle of a discussion when there are some dominant voices and/or some pithy arguments ensuing.


Purpose: To respond to many questions when time is short. To provide an opening on a subject. To get closure on a conversation.

Structure: Form three's–either by counting off, or just forming them where people are sitting. Ask the triads to sit "knee-to-knee" and tell them they will have three minutes to answer a question, which means one minute each. When it is someone's minute, the other two are not to talk but actively listen, and nod encouragingly. You can either tell them each time a minute is up or ask them to try to mind their own time. It is optional whether or not you want the triads to share with the whole group at the end.

Marvin's Model

Purpose: To develop a shared context when time is short.

Structure: In groups of 8–10, in turn respond to questions posed by the facilitator. One question is posed–each person speaks for 30 seconds. Then the next question is posed. There is no dialog, just each person speaking in turn. This is especially useful in introducing a topic and getting participants to share their points of view. There may or may not be open discussion around these questions in the large group–it depends on time.

Structured Controversy

Purpose: To look at and appreciate the different positions on a controversial subject.

Structure: One half of the group is assigned one "side" of the question and the other half, the other. They give their arguments. Then the groups reverse their positions and give new arguments. After this, all participants are asked to formulate a response to the question that incorporates the best thinking they've heard.

Continuum (see a variation of this Structure in Workshop 8)

Purpose: To get a quick read of the group on values-related questions.

Structure: Give the group a values-related question and ask them to line up from one side of the room to the other with one wall representing "strongly agree" and the other "strongly disagree." Once in place, ask a sampling of the group to explain why they chose their positions. This can be done with a series of questions.

Group Interview

Purpose: To share information and determine the true attitudes and feelings of the larger group.

Structure: Set up several groups, each with 6, 8 or 10 people, arranged in two equal rows facing one another. There is a set of questions. The first row has the questions in order, the second has the same set of questions in reverse order. To begin, the participants interview each other in pairs. They ask each other their questions and gather as much information as possible. Each answer should take 3 minutes.

Following this, one row moves over one chair and the process continues until every person has answered all the questions.

The large group is then regrouped so that those who were asking the same questions share their data and analyze it.

Each group should prepare a list of Truths, Trends, and Unique ideas. The information is shared with the larger group.

Text-based Seminar

Purpose: To enlarge understanding of a specific text, not achieve some particular understanding.

Structure: Determine a facilitator and a well-thought through question about the text. In a group of 12–20, discuss the text. The conversation should focus on the text using references and not related opinions or experience. Participants should be actively listening and building on what's just been said. There should be an emphasis on clarification, amplification, and implication. There is no need to go through the facilitator, no hand raising, but lots of direct conversation.


Purpose: To gain a better understanding of other ideas and develop observational and listening skills.

Structure: Four to six participants gather together and have a conversation about a particular topic. The other participants circle around the group of four to six. When one or more participants in the center feel they have exhausted their ideas, they leave the group by tapping a person in the outside group. The person tapped joins the conversation. When the discussion is completed, debrief what was said and what was heard.

Statement Strips

Purpose: To become acquainted with each other's ideas before a discussion.

Structure: Write a beginning statement, such as "Peer observation is . . ."and post it on chart paper. As participants enter the room, ask them to complete the sentence on a strip of paper or a Post-It and place it under the sentences. As the session begins, ask participants if they wish to explain the meaning of their sentences. Follow with a full discussion on the topic.


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