Whole-class, teacher-led discussions can be extremely useful for developing students’ understanding of different subject matters. Especially important are discussions which allow students to reveal and question their existing ideas, including any confusion or misconceptions they may have, and begin to relate them to new information. Teachers also then gain a better understanding of what students know (and do not know) and can focus their teaching accordingly.
In whole-class dialogue, teachers:
- Engage as many students as possible
- Wait for responses and give students opportunities to take long turns
- Avoid judging students’ contributions as either “right” or “wrong” but instead ask for clarifying questions or let other students pose the questions or carry on the idea, delaying evaluation so as to promote conceptual discussion among students
- Encourage students to ask questions about things they do not understand, both to the teacher and each other.
- Encourage students to share their thoughts, reveal their misunderstandings and make relevant comments and allow those to be collectively discussed
- Expect students to not just provide brief, factual answers but to justify their ideas with reasons
- Give air time for students’ ideas irrespective of whether these are correct or incorrect (if they are relevant for the topic at hand).
- Mediate the discussion, keeping it focused and helping students critically evaluate their and other students’ ideas through asking well-timed clarifying questions or for justification or asking other students to respond.