Discussion Protocols

Discussion Strategies, Participation Strategies

UDL 5.3

Discussion protocols are interactive strategies that create more equitable discussion practices within the classroom. When students aren’t participating in classroom discussions because of communication or confidence barriers, these strategies provide low-stakes ways to demonstrate their understanding. Low-stakes discussion protocols provide support for students who have difficulty processing language, such as English Language Learners. They also are support strategies for the introverts and kinesthetic learners in the classroom. Protocols are necessary and effective because often verbal participation and extroverts are valued over other types of communication in the classroom. The teacher can analyze which students are not participating and why and solve those problems by using more creative participation methods, like anonymous participation apps, polling the class in response to a question, or using Four Corners and [[|Human Continuum]] to elicit nonverbal responses and facilitate movement.

Implementation Tips

Chalk Talk
Involve everyone in the discussion by using protocols like Chalk Talk. After a question has been posed, writing tool in hand, students silently write on the wall/poster/smartboard to respond to the question or big idea. Students can respond to other comments with symbols and emojis. After 10 minutes of silence, students present the big ideas that arrived during the protocol.
Anonymous Questioning Apps
Question students by using anonymous questioning techniques or apps when you need low-stakes strategies with shy students.Students might feel more like participating when they feel safe to participate anonymously. Technology applications, such as Poll Everywhere or Socrative, allow students to use their mobile phones to answer questions posed by the teacher.
Open-Ended Questions
Ask questions that elicit open-ended responses, not closed (yes/no) responses to spark discussion. Teachers can prepare questions that have more than one right answer and are open ended, such as “Which character, Wilbur or Charlotte, will make a better friend? Why?” Types of open ended questions ask students to synthesize, analyze, compare, and evaluate.
Snowball to Avalanche
Debate essential questions using Snowball to Avalanche. While standing, a student answers the debatable question and becomes the snowflake. If students agree with the Snowflake they physically move towards that student. If someone else has another opinion, students can move toward the new idea presented based on if they change their mind.
Triad Protocol for Small Groups
Provide group participation roles for equitable small group discussions. Triad Group Roles: A=presenter, B=summarizer, C=observer. The presenter presents their opinion for 3 minutes, then the summarizer summarizes the presentation for a minute. The observer works on their listening skills and is silent. Repeat until everyone has completed their role.
Provide Questions in Advance
Give students the questions that will be discussed ahead of time and ask them to prepare their answers before coming to class. This allows students to process at the pace appropriate to them and be prepared for class discussions. When students feel prepared and comfortable with their thinking they are more likely to participate.
Build Wait Time into Questions
Phrase questions so students form a response in their mind and subtly signal to you that they are ready. (Such as, “visualize how you could use guess and check to solve this problem and give me a thumbs up when you are ready”). It signifies to students that everyone should be thinking about the question.


Four Corners
A teacher has noticed that a few extroverts are the only students who speak about the debatable topics presented in class. The teacher gives a topic with four differing opinions. Students divide physically into whichever “corner” of the room based on the answer or opinion they agree with. Teacher: “Now that you are in your group, discuss why you chose the group and be sure to give evidence of support.” One person is chosen as the “microphone” and reports out the group’s answers and evidence to the whole class. Students can change their opinion and move to other groups. In the debrief, students can report why they changed opinions in a journal entry or exit ticket form.
Tea Party
Before reading a text, teachers can engage students protocol called Tea Party, that encourages movement, participation and attentive listening. The teacher has prepared short quotes from the text on note cards or strips of paper. Students are organized into groups of 4 or 5, each with a quotation strip. Students read their strip and make a prediction about the text. After a few minutes of sharing, students mingle around the room and randomly share what their quotation and prediction. Rejoin their original group and write a statement, “We think this article will be about…, because…” They may also list the questions they have about the text. Finally, they read the selection independently or in their groups, revising their predictions as they read.

Related Strategies