Strategy

Grand Conversation

Literature Circle

A Grand Conversation is a student-led whole-class discussion around a specific topic. This strategy differs from other types of discussions in that it is entirely student-driven, with the teacher participating as a member of the group--only intervening as needed to facilitate and scaffold the conversation. Students sit in a large circle and begin with an essential question or interpretive prompt. The talk pattern is conversational with students taking turns speaking in a spontaneous manner or by using a signal to identify when they would like to speak (e.g., a thumbs-up). Students call on one another and exchange ideas, information and perspectives. The students bring closure to the conversation by summarizing, drawing conclusions, or establishing goals for the next Grand Conversation.

Implementation Tips

Questions and Prompts
Choose open-ended questions that require students to provide evidence from a text, outside sources, or from their own personal experiences to support their claims (e.g., "Who was you least favorite character and why?", "How can we make choice time fun and fair for everyone?")
Setting Clear Expectations
Set clear expectations by having the students create Grand Conversation norms. Record the expectations on a chart and have students commit to the agreements by signing at the bottom. Example Agreements:
1. Everyone has a chance to speak
2. One person speaks at a time
3. Stay on topic
4. Listen to each other and add on, such as, “I agree/disagree with __ because __.”, “To add on to what __ said, __.”)
Support Conversation Skills
Support the “flow” of a Grand Conversation by providing sentence starters for students to choose from. Make these prompts visible to all students during the conversation and add/change the prompts overtime. Sample Conversation Prompts:
--“I noticed that __.”
--“Do you think that __ because of __?”
--“I was confused when __. Do you think that __?”
--“The lesson we can learn is __.”
--“I can relate to that because __.”
Facilitating a Conversation
Monitor and facilitate the pace and depth of the discussion by asking students to elaborate (e.g., “Can you tell us more about that?”), clarify (e.g., “Is there another way you can explain that?”), encourage new points of view (e.g., “What does everyone else think?”), or to quickly refocus a conversation. Make the discussion even less teacher-directed by having a student serve as the facilitator.
Student-Generated Questions
Give students the opportunity to generate and pose the starting question for a Grand Conversation. Provide students with the topic (e.g. a novel being read in class, a personal experience), collect their questions, and draw one at random.
Goal Setting
Encourage equal participation by setting a conversation goal prior to starting a Grand Conversation (e.g., “Let’s see if we can get at least 10 students to share their thinking during today’s Grand Conversation”). Tally each time a different participant shares insight and review the score at the end.
Participation
Designate a specific turn-taking strategy for speaking during the conversation (e.g. Talking Stick, Talking Chips). Provide students with more opportunities to lead by having them select and implement the strategy that most appeals to them.
Protocols
Create a Grand Conversation protocol for students to follow during discussions. Have a student-volunteer use the protocol to initiate the conversation and bring the discussion to a close, following a routine set of steps.
Video Taping
Record discussion and have students view it afterward to reflect on their participation and set personal and classroom goals for the next Grand Conversation (e.g., “We need to make sure we don’t repeat what someone else said.”, “We should try to stick to one topic at a time.”)

Examples

Discussing Literature
After a class read aloud of John Reynolds Gardiner’s, [[https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51Pxa0N-lEL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg|Stone Fox]], a teacher uses a Grand Conversation to have students reflect on the text (e.g., “Why do you think I chose Stone Fox as a class read aloud?”). Students are given a minute of “think-time” to generate viewpoints to the question. Once the conversation is initiated, students are expected to hold a “thumbs-up” when they are ready to share. Students notice when their peers have an idea and call on one another as insights expand. The teacher culminates the Grand Conversation by summarizing the group’s responses.
Instructional Conversation
A teacher initiates a Grand Conversation to engage student thinking about the Pythagorean Theorem (e.g., “Why is the Pythagorean Theorem such an important mathematical concept?). Students lead the discussion, exploring the mathematical concept, analyzing its uses and application in the real world. The teacher records key questions and ideas on a large chart throughout the Grand Conversation. After, the group reviews the insight that was collectively generated and reflects on how the process of a Grand Conversation supported their thinking about the Pythagorean Theorem.
Conflict Resolution
Upon completing a lesson on "respect", a teacher asks the students to write and submit a question about the topic for a Grand Conversation. After the students submit their questions and arrange their desks into a circle, the teacher selects the question, "Why do people tease each other?", reads it aloud and adds, "How might we prevent this from happening?" The teacher states that the Grand Conversation has begun and encourages any student to begin the discussion. After students have engaged in the discussion about "why", the teacher encourages the students to begin sharing possible solutions. At the end, the teacher has students independently summarize the discussion and select and justify one solution in their notebooks or on a piece of paper.

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