During the coaching institute, we were in labsites in a NYC public school where we got to teach lessons. One of the lessons we had to plan was a grand conversation. I admit that I haven’t really been doing them in my classroom prior to the institute. It was a great reminder for me to integrate more grand conversations into my lessons. Of course we do have a lot of discussions as a class, but a grand conversation is a bit different. A grand conversation is where the students are leading this conversation around a specific content area. The amazing thing about grand conversations are that the students participate and build off each other. You shouldn’t need to call on the students. They chime in as they wish.
My group led a grand conversation in a fifth grade classroom during the institute. We decided on a nonfiction text about Jackie Robinson. We read the short book on Jackie Robinson and had a few key questions we used to help start the conversation. I was impressed with the engagement and level of depth in the conversation.
A few tips to leading your own grand conversation:
1) Set clear expectations- It will really be important to be clear that when a person talks, you are listening to them speak and not interrupting them. I have my students sit in a circle so they can see everyone in the class. Grand conversations work great when students are really listening and adding on to each other. A smart idea would be to review with them a sentence starters chart as a scaffold for their conversation. I found a great one on pinterest with conversational sentence starters:
Here’s a quick chart I came up with to help set expectations:
2) Make it mandatory for everyone to participate- A great tip that a colleague gave was to give each student 2 index cards. After they speak, they put the index card in front of them. Once they use up both index cards, they have to wait until everyone else shared to speak again. I tried this with my class and it really helped getting everyone to share. I loved seeing my more reluctant sharers really making meaningful contributions.
3) Use open ended questions to get the conversation started- Also, one thing I tried to do was to spice things up by making a few controversial statements (about the characters) that would allow for debate among the students. Here are some questions that you could use to start the discussion.
- Who was your favorite character and why? Who was your least favorite character?
- How did the characters change in the story?
- What was your favorite part of the story and why?
- What was the author trying to teach you through the story? What were the themes in the story and why?
As the facilitator, depending on the topic and students, if the conversation is not really going well or at a standstill, jump in by changing questions. Also, feel free to share your opinion about the topic.
4) Make sure there’s a lot to talk about- I’ve only done grand conversations in reading workshop, and make sure there’s enough content to talk about. One time, I did a grand conversation after a short picture book I read, and there wasn’t as much for the students to talk about for an extending period of time. Our grand conversation quickly flopped after about 10minutes. After that failure, I held another grand conversation after finishing our long read aloud chapter book, and the students had so much to talk about. My fifth graders were talking for a good 30 minutes.
5) Record it! – If you have an iPad, all you need to do is set it on a table next to where the students are sitting in a circle. Then, press record, and you can easily upload it to your class blog! If it goes well, you can use it as a example to show your students next year. Also, it’ll be a great way to motivate students to be extra focused and pay attention when they know they are being recorded. I have this iPad stand that I used to record:
Have you tried grand conversations in your classroom? Do you have any other tips to add? I would love to hear them!