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Best Practices in Social Studies Education
Class Discussions

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Class discussions are a good way to involve students in their learning.  Discussions can also be used to help students critically think.  I begin almost every class period with a warm up question.  I will usually ask a question that deals with what we discussed the day before in class or what we will discuss that day in class.  I allow students five to ten minutes to write their response to the question.  Once most of the students are close to being finished, I will open the question up to the class for student responses.  If time permits, I will have the discussion until most of the students have had the opportunity to express their opinions.  In the beginning, students are shy, but once they are used to the process I do not really need to be involved in the discussion. 
 
I try to include questions that require students to put themselves in someone else's position.  I think that when students internalize a situation they can really understand the magnitude of it.  In my experience, students critically think more when they can put themselves into a situation. 
 
Class discussions can be handled in a variety of ways.  Since I choose to have discussions two or more times per week, I have developed guidelines for discussions.  I provide students with these guidelines when we have our first discussion.
The guidelines are:
  1. Students must be called on to speak
  2. If you disagree with someone, say "I disagree because..." and understand that everyone, whether they agree with you or not, is entitled to their own opinion.
  3. There will be no name calling
  4. Always show others the respect you want them to show you

It usually takes students three or four discussions before they know and follow all of the guidelines.  It would be beneficial to hang the guidelines somewhere in the classroom so that you or your students can remind each other what the guidelines are when someone does not follow them.  I think that if you are a person who likes to have student imput into classroom guidelines then you may want to involve your students in the process of developing guidelines for class discussions.