One set of skills I want my students to learn is how to enjoy, respond to and discuss what they are reading be it individual books, ebooks or the same books as their classmates. One way to promote this type of learning is through a "Grand Conversation." I was once taught this method of conducting a reading group’s discussion while taking a video course through Canter University. I'd like to share it with you.
- Students come to the reading group/literature circle prepared to discuss a portion of the text.
- The teacher or a student asks a question, gives an opinion of the book or mentions a part that was particularly interesting.
- Students, in turn answer or comment on the conversation starter until there is no more to say. The teacher remains as quiet as possible.
- Another student or the teacher starts another conversation, and another until time is up.
Now, this may seem very simplistic and no big deal. Or you may be thinking that there is no way your students would be able to sustain one conversation, let alone multiple conversations without teacher input. There is more to keep in mind for a "Grand Conversation."
- These conversations are students led. The teacher is an observer, prompting only when the conversation gets off topic or starts to die down.
- The teacher should be keeping track of who gets a turn to speak. I keep a tally as the students converse.
- No one should take over the conversation. In fact, there is a rule: a student is only allowed to talk twice until all the students in the group have had a chance to contribute to the conversation. This is part of the reason why you must keep track of who is talking during the conversation. I've had to ask some enthusiastic talkers to be patient and let others speak. It's a good lesson (and practice) for all.
- Let the students practice. Just as with any other skill we teach students, the art of the conversation is something that needs practice. Not only are you practicing how to contribute to a conversation, but you are also going to discuss proper eye contact, patience and listening so you can respond appropriately. This is not something you should do once or twice, but many times throughout the year. I will have students conduct "Grand Conversations" often, especially when we are reading longer novels.
Using the concept of a "Grad Conversation" has been a wonderful experience for me. It allows all voices to be heard, gives students some ownership over their reading and learning and is quality processing of a book or concept.
Please comment to ask a question or share how you use conversations in your literacy block.