Sentence Stems…to enter discussion

How do we enter discussions? First, we have to look for the cue that we can enter without trampling on the previous speaker. I am fascinated by the linguistic and body language cues that seem to influence us all (differently) on when to jump in. Some people need a distinct pause, some people just need to hear a “trailing off” of the previous speaker for their own launch pad. Some offer a visual cue by leaning in. Sometimes an astute neighbor hears a quieter person merely inhale deeply and will say to the class, “I think Eleanor has something to say.” But then…what to say?

A year ago while observing a class at Noble Academy in Chicago, where students were also just getting used to Harkness classes, I noted to the teacher that they seemed to begin a lot of comments with, “I agree,” or “I respectfully disagree.” They knew this one way to enter: agree/disagree with previous comment. How could they shake up their types of comments, and hopefully lead to some new facets in discussion? That teacher immediately wrote out a list of other sentence stems they might use and handed it out the next day. It quickly changed the classes – first to be less stilted, and then to open new ways of looking at the text.

“I wonder…,”

“One thing that confused me in the text…”

“Is it possible that…”

“Are we sure that…”

One idea is to offer a list of sentence stems relevant to a class and have the students just tuck them in their notebook. If they are searching for how to get in, or how to help the discussion, they can quietly reference it. Maybe they set a goal to try one in the next few classes?

Of course, students get better over time and don’t even realize the repertoire they develop. While watching a couple of Harkness demos (see previous post) with some very accomplished seniors, Tyler Caldwell, an English instructor, typed up the sentence stems that were used by the seniors as they entered this discussions.

He wrote to me:

I do keep track of the ways seniors enter the discussion during the Harkness Demonstration, and I provide my students with those phrases for our first discussion – I’ve attached last year’s document here. I then ask them to circle their “top 3 most effective ways of entering a discussion.” Then, we go around the room, they choose one, and explain why they chose that phrase and why it might be particularly effective. 

We then have our own mini discussion on a short story in the second half of class and we try to keep those phrases in mind as we go

 

This is a brilliant idea to then give out to the ninth graders in a subsequent class. So tangible to see these – a real technique of how to participate. And yet, to be honest, probably something that the seniors just developed through lots of practice and day-in, day-out discussions, without a lot of specific consciousness.

Here’s the list from the demos:

Ways seniors entered the discussion during the Harkness Demonstration

Does anyone have any words they would like to look up?

I’m not very familiar with nautical terms – is “schooner” a type of boat?

One thing I noticed in the poem…. What do you guys make of that division?

I thought it was really interesting that in the fifth and sixth stanzas…

Do you think that…

I think that relates to what Jo said about….

We also see a conflict emerging when…

You go…

Maybe that conflict you are talking about, Joanna, is…

For me, it evoked the image of…

Do we want to say that…

What you said, Matt, for me was a powerful image because…

Go ahead, Eric…

Going back to Charis’s question that she asked a few minutes ago, I think we can ask…

Using the conflict that Matt mentioned…

I think that’s why it’s important that there is a good deal of sacred language throughout…

I agree with what both Charis and Aivant are saying because…

I’m not sure how everyone else interpreted it, but I took the line…to mean…

As we’ve talked about, stanza five told me…

We see that also in stanza 6. If we look at the structure of the poem, which Jo originally asked about…

I think that’s connected to what Sanjana was saying about…

In the middle line of stanza 9…

I think it’s important to note….

It would change how we understand the “you” in the poem…

The thing Sanjana said about the poem earlier has really changed my original understanding of the poem…

I think you brought this up earlier, Eric…

We have to continue to remember or consider….

Charis, I think you made a really good point

One of the things that really stuck with me was….

An observation I’ll take away is…

I have a question about…

I think it could be both…

Could we talk about that? Do we think that?

Well, there is a section…

The paragraph above the one Charlotte just read…

You mentioned that…what I saw was…

Oh sorry, go ahead.

I was going to say, adding on to the idea that…

I agree. What I wanted to mention was…

Where do you see that?

Just to piggyback on what Prady is saying…

Did anyone else get the sense that…

I saw another similar thing when…

I thought the way the author used language to shape the story reflects…

In addition to that…

Can we talk a bit more about…

One thing I thought was really interesting…

Also, in paragraph 9…

There is really a sudden shift in…

Do you mind clarifying?

I thought the point that Emmett brought up on…

As readers we also make the assumption…

Mr. Myers mentioned…and I noticed that…Looking over it again…

I think Christian brought up…

I think it is a little bit dangerous for us to assume…

I thought at first that…

I just noticed…

What do you guys make of the fact that…

Athena’s point reminds me…

I have a question about the first full paragraph on the second page…

How did you guys read the last sentence of the third paragraph?

I actually read that the other way…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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