Book Discussion Skills:

  •       making sure everyone becomes involved in a discussion
  •        practicing paraphrasing text
  •        using text to support an idea
  •        attentive listening
  •        building on one another’s ideas
  •        asking clarifying questions

Tools and Protocols for Discussions:

In addition to the skills above, the use of reading tools facilitates discussion. Simply approaching material with a tool in hand reminds students to enter the text thinking and to be conscious of their response. The notes created with each tool thus come to the discussion. They refresh memories and become the foundation for discussion possibilities.

Reading Tools

Reading Tool: Knowledge Chart (Assessing Prior Knowledge)

A Knowledge Chart is an instructional tool that serves two important purposes in content learning:

  • The chart provides you with a quick reference for what individual students know and what the class as a group knows in relation to a topic you are about to study.
  • The chart gives students an opportunity to see how quickly they could build background knowledge for a topic prior to reading the text.

Adapted from: Janet Allen, More Tools for Teaching Content Literacy (2008)

Reading Tool: Double-Entry Journal (Preparing for Discussion)

This tool uses a 3-column format to note quotations, page #s and reader response. It’s a form of “talking with your text” that prepares the student for discussion.

Reading Tool: Text Coding (Preparing for Discussion) Text Coding Handout

This simple set of text codes is especially helpful with content-loaded texts where every single word matters. The text codes encourage marking right in the text and margins so that unfamiliar or important words are boxed and confusing passages are noted. Try having students underline words that are connected to words they boxed. Adapted from: Harvey Daniels & Nancy Steineke, ed., Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles (2004).

Reading Tool: Visualizing the Story (Preparing for Discussion)

Strategic readers visualize and imagine. Try asking students to record what they “see, hear, taste, smell, and feel” while reading.

Reading Tool: Post-Its as a Tool for Thoughtful Response (Preparing for Discussion)

Using post-its, attach connections, questions, and reactions next to the text. Write the page number at the top of each post-it.  After the discussion, collect the notes and put them in page-number order on plain paper as a record of the class’s thinking all the way through the reading.

Reading Tool: Bookmarks (Preparing for Discussion)

Create double-sided bookmarks with spaces for:

  • Personal response
  • Important passage (write down page #) that makes me think about…
  • A quote (and page #) that makes me wonder about….
  • Connection to historical context

Discussion Protocols

Here are a few discussion protocols. The School Reform Initiative has many more organized with tags.

Interested in reading more about developing classroom communities for equitable discussions? Try Matthew Kay,  Not Light but Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom.

Discussion Protocol: “Take it Back to the Book”

In order for text-based book discussions to be rooted in the text, sometimes it is necessary to remind participants to “take it back to the book.” Before offering an opinion, share the page # and paragraph of your quote. Wait until everyone has found the passage. Tying ideas to the text should become second nature.

Discussion Protocol: “Save the Last Word for Me”

The idea of this discussion skill technique is to encourage participants to gather ideas from all group members before the person who chose the passage explains his or her interpretations. It is a way to ensure that the discussion deepens and that several people have the opportunity to share their opinions.

How it works:
Group member shares a passage s/he particularly liked. The others in the group each then share why they think the reader thought the passage was important, how the passage relates to something else in the book, or just what they noticed or thought about as the passage was read. After a few people have shared, then have the original group member explain why s/he chose it.
from: Harvey Daniels & Nancy Steineke, ed., Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles (2004)

Try these discussion protocols from Facing History and Ourselves

When you want students to… Try this strategy…
Uncover the complexity of an event
Discuss a contentious topic
Process an emotionally difficult event
Analyze Images and Video
Understand diverse perspectives
Connect a topic to their own lives