Teaching approaches: Discussion

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Teaching Approaches

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When we talk about discussion, we're typically considering the social activity of engaging in conversation around a particular topic, or set of topics. In the educational context this is obviously a powerful tool with which to engage pupils in using subject-based language, in engaging ways. Readers should refer to the pages on Dialogic Teaching, Dialogue, and Whole Class work for further detail, in addition to the resources on the page which offer some examples for example on how to start effective discussion.

Relevant resources


Argumentation Starting an Argument in Science
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Strategies to get discussion going
This resource provides a table of useful activities and effective prompts to stimulate reasoning(ta) argumentation(ta) and discussion(ta) in science teaching.
Assessment Changing KS3 Questions for Engaging Assessment
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A large set of questions grouped by topic, paper, and national curriculum level
Test questions are often seen as uninteresting and useful only to assess pupils summatively. This resource however allows questioning(ta) to be used to support pupils’ revision, creativity and higher order(ta) problem-solving in class. The tasks could be conducted via whole class(ta) discussion(ta) or assessment(ta), perhaps using mini-whiteboards(tool), or in small group work(ta) situations.
Astronomy Stars in the sky: what's up?
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Use a software planetarium and encourage students to think about astronomy
This activity offers an opportunity for whole class(ta) discussion(ta) and questioning(ta) centred around the use of the Stellarium. It also affords good opportunities for self-directed study or homework(ta) extensions, including perhaps the use of free mobile apps(tool) (see below). There are also opportunities for some cross curricula(i) discussion of geography (navigation by stars) and history or literacy in relation to the ancient world.
Blogs Digital Reporters at Camp Cardboard
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Children using iPads to blog about Cardboard Sculptures
This activity is a cross curricula(subject) activity, involving a collaborative(tool) approach, giving children the opportunity to work together on a blog. Children were encouraged to engage in group talk(ta) and discussion(ta) in the classroom to reflect on the activity they were to report on. The activity furthers e-skills(topic) and e-safety(topic) through the use of whole class(ta) participation. The specific art activity provided a great stimulus for the blogging. Equally, however, this approach could be applied to any event in or out of school. The use of blogging and social media gave the opportunity for children to share their ideas with a wider audience, and also gave opportunities for real-time feedback to their work. The use of hand-held technology also enabled active learning(ta) as the portability of the iPads and iPods allowed them to be used outside the classroom.
Blogs Creating and Using OER to Promote Best Practice
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One school's approach to sharing and promoting best practice using a blog
This lesson idea encourages collaboration(ta) between teachers in order to develop and share practice(i) across a school. Blogs provide excellent opportunities for children and adults to share ideas and work together. They encourage and enable dialogue(ta) between a writer - or group of writers - and an audience, allowing for quick and easy feedback. They enable questions(ta) to be asked and answered quickly. This example shows a blog being used to encourage discussion(ta) to enable curriculum planning(topic) and curriculum development(topic).
CPD Using Drama Activities in your Teaching
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A lesson by any other name...Using Drama across the curriculum to enhance teaching
This resource highlights some strategies to use drama(ta) activities in the teaching of other subjects. Drama(ta) can provide a useful cross curricula(i) way to prompt active learning(ta) and subsequent discussion(ta) and group talk(ta).
CPD Common Pitfalls in Questioning
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Exploring problematic questions and ways to avoid them
Questioning(ta) is a key classroom practice, and skill, and can sometimes fall into the trap of focusing on lower levels, as opposed to higher order(ta) reasoning(ta) and discussion(ta) skills. This resource covers some reasons why this - and other pitfalls - occur, with some practical advice for ensuring high quality questioning in your classroom.
CPD Encouraging Pupils to Ask Effective Questions
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Getting pupils to do the questioning
This resource describes some methods to encourage pupils themselves to engage in effective questioning(ta) - an active learning(ta) approach which may be useful in whole class(ta) or group work(ta) discussion(ta).
CPD Giving Oral Feedback
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Developing good practice in giving oral feedback
This resource discusses giving oral feedback, particularly in the context of assessment(ta), which could include whole class(ta) discussion(ta) or group talk(ta), as well as questioning(ta) contexts.
Consecutive Sums Using Prime and Square Numbers - How Old Am I?
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Last year I was square, but this year I am in my prime. How old am I?
This short activity offers opportunity for pupils to engage in mathematical thinking(ta) and higher order(ta) problem solving/reasoning(ta). They should be able to make links between different areas of mathematics and explore their ideas in whole class(ta) discussion(ta) and questioning(ta).
Contemporary issues Teaching the Science of Contemporary Issues
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Find lesson inspiration aplenty from news clips and stories.
This longer (32 page) resource provides useful guidance, examples, and CPD activities for exploring contemporary issues in science, particularly to stimulate effective group talk(ta) and discussion(ta), and provoke pupil's interest in science.
Discussion Discussion in Science Teaching
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Equip yourself to run a discussion in class
This resource is aimed at developing student teachers’ skills in working with discussion(ta). It can be presented to them as a hand-out to accompany an activity or read as reference material. See it online at BEEP website. Although it uses a science context, the real focus of the resource is managing and organising discussion-based activities. It provides guidance on:
  • Starting and structuring a discussion
  • Organising group talk(ta)
  • Role Play/drama(ta)
  • Ground Rules for discussion and handling difficult discussions
Discussion The Environment for Group Talk in Science
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"Ask questions rather than provide answers: ‘What’s the strength of his or her point?’ ‘How you could check that out?’ "
This resource contains a set of activities and examples to discuss and work through based around maintaining group talk(ta) in whole class(ta) and group work(ta) settings, including setting up Ground Rules, and creating appropriate environments (physical and 'class rule' based) for argumentation(ta) and discussion(ta)
Ethics Cloning
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Cloning - Potential and Issues
The topic of the ethics(topic) of modern biology needs to draw on a wider range of sources than a printed book may provide. This resource uses a web tutorial interspersed with external links to news and comment. Rather than leave the students to explore too many interests, a worksheet with questions enables the teacher to focus the students on a subset of the material. You can adapt this to your particular need, for example, if you wanted students to have a discussion(ta)in small groups. You might also consider using a blog, chat room or other ICT tools to record the questioning(ta) and reasoning(ta) around this topic. The lesson-planning proforma (or draft lesson plan) includes a list of objectives that shows the scope of the material.
Ethics Designer Babies
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When does life actually begin?
By using an informative web tutorial, this resource aims to stimulate discussion(ta) on the ethics(topic) of modern biology. A worksheet asks students where they stand and reassures them that their response might be kept private. You might also consider using a blog, chat room or other ICT tool to record the questioning(ta) and reasoning(ta) around this topic. A teaching section offers guidance on 'teaching argument' using 'Toulmin’s model of argument' and 'The IDEAS project'.
Ethics Ethical issues in human reproduction
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Why does reproduction raises so many ethical issues? When does life begin?
This lesson outline stimulates A-level students to engage in discussion(ta), develop their reasoning(ta) skills and increase their awareness of the bioethical(topic) issues involved in human reproduction.

Background texts and open-ended questioning(ta) about human reproduction, contraception and IVF are provided as the stimulus. Small group discussion about these topics, writing on post-it notes, and reading case studies aim to get students reasoning(ta) to justify their opinions, and to compare and evaluate competing views. Finally, whole class(ta) discussion synthesises the emerging ideas and encourages students to consider changing their positions or adding additional issues to a recording table.

Force Forces in Static Situations
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What are forces, how do you describe them and just where do they act?
This resource is part of a set of 7 ORBIT resources and can be used in different ways:
  • As a ‘dip in’ resource for teachers needing ideas about exploring forces.
  • As the foundation for a larger topic involving all of the activities as the inspiration for a large body of work on the exploits of Nelly the Elephant. There are clear links to literacy (Nelly’s story), numeracy (weighing and measuring), music (the song – how can it represent her journey in sound), art representations of elephants, designs based on India elephants in traditional tack), geography (the origins of elephants), history (Hannibal and historical uses of elephants).
  • At Foundation Stage children would be exploring forces in terms of pushes and pulls on various objects and are unlikely to be recording their results. At KS1 and KS2 children may be exploring forces by considering the idea of size and direction of force as well as the concept of balanced/equal or unbalanced/unequal forces. After a brief discussion(ta) about what the children know already about forces an interesting activity is to ask them to see what in the classroom they can move by pushing. Discuss their findings and ask about the size of force they were using on the objects and in which direction the force was acting. Use some pupils to demonstrate their actions. Then discuss the concept that there are forces acting in the other direction as well. If the object moves then the pushing force of the child is larger than the force acting in the other direction. Ask the children to try moving the wall by pushing. Then discuss the idea that the force of the wall holding together and staying still is equal to the force they are using to try to move it - otherwise there would be movement either of the wall or of the children backwards. A good way to demonstrate this difficult concept is to push a bulldog clip against a wall, using the wall to push one of the levers on the clip. Following this practical activity the children might pick one or two situations and use arrows to record the size and direction of forces in the drawn situation.
Genetics Human Genome Project: from Sequencing to Sharing Genomic Information
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Discuss and share economic, political and ethical issues.
This resource provides guidance on how to use whole class(ta) discussion(ta) and/or small group work(ta) to engage students with the science and the economic, political, ethical(topic), legal and social issues of a scientific project such as the HGP. Its focus is on the scientific method(ta); language(ta) and the nature of scientific inquiry(ta).
ICT Creating Instructional Videos
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Children create instructional videos to upload to YouTube
This activity is a cross-curricular(subject) activity with a literacy focus, involving a collaborative(tool) approach, giving children to opportunity to work together to produce a set of instructional resources. Children were encouraged to engage in group talk(ta) and discussion(ta) in the classroom to reflect on what they should include in their videos. The activity furthers e-skills(topic) through the use of whole class(ta) participation. It develops e-safety(topic) skills through discussion of the issues relating to posting digital content online. Children were allowed to choose their own subject for the video, although this could be set by a teacher with a specific outcome in mind, or could be tailored to cover a particular topic or subject. It could, for instance, be used to explain their mathematical thinking(ta).
ICT Digital Technology Presentations with ITE
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Student teachers creating presentations about digital literacy
This activity idea involves student teachers sharing practice(topic) of digital literacy use in the classroom in order to promote discussion(ta) and reflection on digital literacy and activities that promote e-skills(topic) development in the classroom. The use of student-prepared presentations promotes active learning(ta) and reflection on their learning, encouraging development of the issues explored in their assignments. It also involves questioning(ta) from an audience, encouraging deeper thinking through collaboration(ta) and discussion(ta).
ICT Digital Resources for ITE
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Student teachers reflecting upon case studies relating to Digital Literacy
This activity idea is an excellent of example of sharing practice(topic) of current teachers with student teachers in order to promote discussion(ta) and reflection on digital literacy and activities that promote e-skills(topic) development in the classroom. The lecturer uses questioning(ta) to promote active learning(ta) through collaboration(ta) and discussion(ta) of the resources.
Language Exploring shape and its mathematical language through sorting activities
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Using mathematical language to discuss shapes of objects either printed or hidden in 'feely bags'. Can you feel the forks?
The Investigation(ta) of shapes and geometry can be very rewarding. A practical approach using objects from the pupils’ environment can increase their motivation and interest. In this unit, you will be using everyday objects to help pupils develop geometrical skills, such as recognising, visualisation(ta), describing, sorting, naming, classifying and comparing.

Through games(tool) on the properties of shapes, the activity engages pupils in group talk(ta), mathematical thinking(ta) and vocabulary(ta). This open ended(ta) task encourages higher order(ta) thinking, and could form the basis of whole class(ta) discussion(ta)/questioning(ta) and inquiry(ta) projects. It can be used as a lesson extension, or as a preliminary task.

Living things Classifying and organising living things using images
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Find different ways to classify living things
This lesson offers opportunities to explore ways to classify living things as well as characteristics which might be relevant, and how to address difficulties that may arise when trying to classify things in this way. The activity may be enhanced by the use of ICT(i) software (e.g. Picasa) but could be carried out with paper-based resources.

This lesson presents a good opportunity for small group work(ta) and some inquiry(ta) into how we classify; and why some classification methods might be more useful, or more scientifically interesting than others. There is also a good opportunity to use different sorts of questioning(ta); to encourage pupils to question each other; to engage in peer assessment(ta) and to focus discussion(ta) on the scientific method(ta) using key vocabulary(ta).

Populations Populations and ecosystems
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Rabbits and vegetation - a real population case study
Learning objectives are met using the following approaches:
  • brainstorm (whole class(ta))
  • looking at graphs (small group work(ta))
  • case study (whole class teaching and discussion(ta))
  • concept mapping (whole class activity)
Probability Playing with Probability - Efron's Dice
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I have some dice that are coloured green, yellow, red and purple...
Efron's dice provide a discussion(ta) topic for joint reasoning(ta) - whole class(ta) or in group work(ta). Pupils can explore aspects of mathematical thinking(ta) particularly with relation to probability.
QR codes Editing Using QR Codes to Engage Children with Learning
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Children using digital literacy to engage with reading and writing
This lesson idea uses technology to promote active learning(ta) as resources were produced to be located and explored in a public park. The early stage of the activity, involving the creation of the resources by the children, required discussion(ta) involving the whole class(ta). Group talk(ta) was also employed as a strategy, with the children agreeing on a narrative(ta) outline relating to the event. The creation of the online materials encouraged development of e-skills(topic).

The later stages of activity, where the children were looking for clues, required them to ask questions(ta) and to take a collaborative(tool) approach to find a solution, based on the digital texts they found.

Questioning Questioning
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Why Question? A unit exploring the use of questioning in your classroom
This resource discusses questioning(ta) and its relationship to engaging reasoning(ta), active learning(ta) and discussion(ta) as well as aspects of planning(ta) such as writing learning objectives(ta).
Science Primary Science Investigation
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What is involved in 'doing a science investigation'? And what is there to assess?
This resource describes the process of doing an investigation for inquiry(ta)-based learning. Teachers could share practice(i) and lesson planning(ta) ideas using the list of pupil skills (e.g. observing). It also lists learning goals for investigation skills (e.g. observing, predicting, problem solving) and ideas for exploring different types of practical work(ta) in science.

It could be used for discussion(ta) or brainstorming on how to apply these skills to different content areas. The resource emphasises engaging pupils in the scientific method(ta) - using higher order(ta) thinking skills, group work(ta) and dialogue(ta) to facilitate knowledge building(ta)/reasoning(ta).

Standard Index Form An Introduction to the Standard Index Form
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Working out the rules according to which a calculator displays large numbers
The Standard Index Form is a key idea for mathematicians and scientists. The notion that we choose to write numbers in this way requires some explanation. So in this activity, pupils take part in an investigation(ta) on how standard index form works. This is a higher order(ta) problem solving context where students are encouraged to engage in mathematical thinking(ta). They may be involved in whole class(ta) or small group work(ta) discussion(ta), so they have a good opportunity to practice using mathematical language(ta) and questioning(ta).

This means that students do not need to be able to explain their ideas in full: they can use the calculator's feedback to discover whether their ideas are correct or not. This is also an exciting way for pupils to realise an initial idea that fits the data may need to be extended when new data arises. This resource therefore aims to develop investigative skills, as well as introduce pupils to standard index form in a memorable way. The pupils can later use their knowledge of indices in discussion(ta) and group talk(ta) as they explain what is happening.

Statistics Cubic Equations and Their Roots
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To interactiviley explore and understand complex mathematics with GeoGebra
This lesson features a ‘real life’ example for students to explore using visualisation(ta) via GeoGebra. The focus on ‘real life’ increases student motivation.

The activity engages pupils in group talk(ta), mathematical thinking(ta) and vocabulary(ta). This open ended(ta) task encourages higher order(ta) thinking, and encourages whole class(ta) discussion(ta)/questioning(ta) and inquiry(ta) projects.

Visualisation GeoGebra STEM Exploration
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Develop 'real world' GeoGebra mathematical modelling applications which reach out to a wide range of users both students and teachers
The half-term activity consists of 3 half-day workshops interspersed with home-working and on-line collaboration. Each workshop is part tutorial and help in GeoGebra, part development, presentation and feedback on their emerging work. The three half-day sessions become gradually less structured as students become more confident taking the initiative in developing their own work:

An initial GeoGebra tutorial session features ‘real life’ examples such as mathematical modelling(ta) and visualisation(ta) from photographs of patterns and structure in flowers and architecture; exercises such as “math aerobics” where students model algebraic functions kinaesthetically; and data analysis and exploration such as from astronomy (Kepler's 3rd law) and athletic performance (Usain Bolt’s 100m sprints). Realistic examples such as these, or from students’ previous work, are essential to get the ball rolling. Following this, the onus is very much on the student’s own initiative. The focus on ‘real life’ and student ownership of ideas and project development increases student motivation.

The activity engages pupils in group talk(ta), mathematical thinking(ta) and vocabulary(ta). This open ended(ta) task develops higher order(ta) reasoning(ta), and encourages whole class(ta) discussion(ta)/questioning(ta) and inquiry(ta) projects.

Visualisation Solar and Lunar Eclipse
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To show and explain how a Solar and Lunar eclipse occurs
This lesson features a ‘real life’ example for students to explore using visualisation(ta) via GeoGebra. The focus on ‘real life’ increases student motivation.

The activity engages pupils in group talk(ta), mathematical thinking(ta) and vocabulary(ta). This open ended(ta) task encourages higher order(ta) thinking, and encourages whole class(ta) discussion(ta)/questioning(ta) and inquiry(ta) projects.

Visualisation Flying paper planes
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Very visual and interactive and simple to understand
This lesson features a ‘real life’ example for students to explore using visualisation(ta) via GeoGebra. The focus on ‘real life’ increases student motivation.

The activity engages pupils in group talk(ta), mathematical thinking(ta) and vocabulary(ta). This open ended(ta) task encourages higher order(ta) thinking, and encourages whole class(ta) discussion(ta)/questioning(ta) and inquiry(ta) projects.

Visualisation Radioactive Decay and Carbon Dating
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Using 'real life' data to explore exponential graphs
This lesson features a ‘real life’ example for students to explore using visualisation(ta) via GeoGebra. The focus on ‘real life’ increases student motivation.

The activity engages pupils in group talk(ta), mathematical thinking(ta) and vocabulary(ta). This open ended(ta) task encourages higher order(ta) thinking, and encourages whole class(ta) discussion(ta)/questioning(ta) and inquiry(ta) projects.