Learn what works

Discussion provides students with opportunities to build in-depth knowledge of subject matter. The Iowa Core Curriculum includes speaking as one of the five areas of literacy; discussion is, of course, a skill that is part of speaking.  According to Nystrand & Gamoran, discussion is “thoughtful and sustained examination of a given topic over a period of time involving substantial contributions and reflections by both teacher and students.” Peer discussions are preferred over teacher-led discussions because many times these become question-answer periods.

  • What it is: Few questions. What it isn’t: Many questions.
  • What it is: Questions are used to clarify or elaborate on ideas. What it isn’t: Quizzing students for a pre-determined answer.
  • What it is: Building upon other’s ideas and perspectives. What it isn’t: Random thoughts and questions.
  • What it is: Student-centered. What it isn’t: Teacher- centered.
  • What it is: Frequent opportunities for discussion. What it isn’t: Only occurs “once-in-awhile.”
  • What it is: Connect to background knowledge. What it isn’t: Little or no opportunity to connect to background knowledge.
  • What it is: Explore different perspectives of the subject. What it isn’t: One perspective is presented and explored.
  • What it is: Frequent interaction with each other. What it isn’t: Interaction is limited.
  • What it is:Teacher acts as a guide, coach and facilitator. What it isn’t…Teacher is seen as the expert

See how it works

Engage Students in a Discussion

  • Teach students the behaviors of discussion
  • Utilize partners to maximize participation
  • Ask engaging questions
    • What was your favorite part of the story?
    • What surprised you in the story?
    • What did the author want us to feel about ________?
    • How is the story similar to ________?
    • What is another way the story could have ended?
  • Looks Like: Facing peers. Sounds Like: Using a pleasant, easy to hear voice.
  • Looks Like: Making eye contact. Sounds Like:Sharing opinions and supporting facts.
  • Looks Like: Participating. Sounds Like:Sharing positive comments.
  • Looks Like: Listening. Sounds Like:Staying on topic.

Do what works

4 A’s directions protocol

Questioning game


  • Accelerating Adolescent Literacy: A report from Iowa’s adolescent literacy research and development team.