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Debriefing: Refining Discussion Skills
Students of all ages will need lots of practice with discussion before it begins to take off.  Therefore, we encourage you to keep your expectations for discussion realistic.  Most teachers find that students become more adept at these conversations gradually.  This is helped when teachers take time to debrief the discussions by drawing students together afterward and reviewing what went well and what is still challenging.  Through this cycle of practice and debriefing, you will begin to see growth.

    Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Keep the debriefing short and focused.  A debriefing session does not need to take a lot of time in order to be effective. Lori Scobie conducts whole-class debriefings for five to ten minutes after the groups have discussed. Vicki Yousoofian's first graders absorb a few helpful tips in quick debriefings immediately after their discussion.
  • Start simply.  Ask your students a couple of simple questions:  "What worked well today?" and "What do we still need to work on?"  Lori does this while standing in front of the literature circle guidelines chart.  If an issue comes up that seems to be important, she may add another guideline to the list.
  • Use debriefing to teach specific strategies students can use in their next discussion.  Debriefing offers an excellent way to help students become conscious of what works and what doesn't in a discussion.  You can achieve this best when students understand specifics.  As an example, listen to what Janine King told one group as she debriefed their discussion:  "You had two parts to your discussion today -- predictions and questions.  One generated more discussion.  Which was that?"  One student said, "Our questions."  When Janine asked the group why they thought that was true, someone said, "When you give your prediction, you can't really argue with that.  It's their prediction."  Janine built on that understanding: "When you're talking about something that's more of a statement, what could help the discussion?"  Here's what the students suggested:
"Say your prediction, then ask, 'What do you think of that?'"
 "Ask, 'What do you think might happen later in the book?'"
 "Say, 'That's what I thought, too.  Do you have any thoughts?'"

         Through this debriefing, students demonstrated that they know what goes into an effective discussion, and they're working on the how.  Janine summed it up for them: "When someone makes a prediction and tells why, then you can piggyback on that other person's prediction."  Students came away with specific strategies to apply right away in their next discussion.

  • Guide students' self-reflection    Begin with reflections in response journals.  The response journal provides a good place for student self-reflection on discussions.  Useful prompts include, "What went well in your discussion today?"  "What was something that you did to help the discussion go smoothly?"  "What will you work on for next time?"  In a journal entry, one of Mary Lou Laprade's third graders wrote:  "Yesterday, I think that the book club discussion went pretty good because we all were good listeners and we all participated.  We kept the discussion going and we all had a lot of fun."  Journal entry reflections give you helpful assessment information about your studentsí ability to identify and articulate the elements of effective discussion.

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Literature Circles Resource Center

© 2004 Katherine L. Schlick Noe
College of Education
Seattle University