It’s Tuesday, which means it’s Tuesday Newsday in my classroom here in Carmen Pampa. I started this discussion activity a few weeks ago, and it has become a great way to engage my students in critical thinking about current events, while providing lots of opportunities for reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It’s based on a 5-day current events lesson outline that I developed for advanced high school ESL students last year; here I’ve condensed it to a one-day activity that we complete in two 1-hour class periods.
We begin the day with our regular writing warm-up. Students free write for five minutes about a question related to the news article we’ll be reading. Today we read about the court decision in which four men were found guilty of the rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi in December; students wrote about their perceptions of women’s rights in Bolivia. Two weeks ago, we read about the increasing use of religious coercion by the Egyptian military to convince its soldiers that killing civilians is justified, and students wrote about what they think the relationship between religious and governmental institutions should be. (We’ve been diving into heavy topics!)
After their writing warm-up, we read a news article together as a class. I usually pull an article from the New York Times; I plan to have students find and bring their own articles from local Bolivian newspapers once we’ve gone through the activity a few more times. As we read, we identify key vocabulary words, pull out main themes, and develop a short summary of the article.
After reading, students individually develop three questions about the article or the surrounding issues and themes that they would like to discuss as a class. The first time we did the activity, I gave a brief mini-lesson on writing thoughtful questions. With high school students, I spend a couple of full days on question writing, using Bloom’s taxonomy to analyze question types and creating sentence frames to help students write higher-order questions.
When we meet again during the next class period, the students break into small groups of 3-4. (The first week, we had the discussion as a whole class, but students are able to participate much more in small groups.) Each student shares his or her questions with the group, and together the group chooses the three most interesting questions that they would like to talk about. They write these questions at the top of a piece of paper.
I give the students 5 minutes to brainstorm their answers to their group’s questions – writing first can help students organize their thoughts and prepare for the conversation. Students then talk about the questions, taking notes on who speaks and the main point of their comment. Students use talking chips with sentence starters to help facilitate the conversation (an academic language development idea from Jeff Zwiers).
I walk around the room to monitor the discussions, and students hand in their note sheets to me at the end of the hour. Sometimes they’re a little slow to get started, but after a few minutes an energetic discussion usually develops! Students really enjoy this activity, and I love how many different opportunities it provides for practicing many different important skills – not the least of which is being a thoughtful, involved, informed citizen.