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Conversation Starters: Ground Rules

Before beginning any new routine in your classroom, it’s important to establish the ground rules.  How will students participate?  What is expected of them?  When and how often will the new routine take place?  When the routine asks students to talk about themselves, the ground rules become even more important.  Requesting vulnerability from your students must come with the security that you are there to mediate the discussion and protect them.

Surely you have already established routines for respecting the different opinions in your classroom.  Maybe you have an object students are given which signals their turn to talk or you ask them to jump in, not over.

Be sure to take the time to lay out the ground rules for these conversation starters.  Ask your students to tell you what rules would help them to feel safe.  And, always explain to them why you are asking them to complete a task.  In this case, tell them that you are leading them through a journey of learning about themselves, of self-awareness.

Remember to refresh their memories every so often about the rules that they all agreed to.  I like to write down the class rules on a poster and ask students to sign as a pledge of their intent to honor the rules.

What strategies work in your classroom?  What makes your students feel safe?



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Conversation Starters: App Design

Students today are extremely tech savvy.  Let’s leverage their skills and comfort there and, let’s face it, their authority on the matter to have them discuss their ideas for new tech.

Because this month’s focus is creativity, let’s put the students in the inventor’s chair.  The key to teaching kids about happiness is helping them identify the what and the how.  That is: What makes them happy?? How will they get it?  This is a very subtle, safe way to begin their journey.

This week ask them:

“If you could design a new app, what would it do and what would it look like?”

Objective: Get students to reflect on what they wish they had access to and to begin building problem-solving skills about how to get it.

This is a great way to leverage multiple intelligences: writers, artists, and tech-wizards.  You may be surprised on who in the group provides the best answers!  Also, incorporating drawing and drafting gives littler kids access to answering this question.

For stuck students, try these prompts:

  • Which apps do you use the most?  What is similar about them?
  • Which apps do you use that need improving?  How would you improve them?
  • What is one thing you dislike doing that you wish your phone could do for you?
  • What will be the next big social media app?

For littler ones, this can be changed to ask:

“What is a toy you would design?  What would it do and what would it look like?”

Let me know what they come up with!


– AK

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Conversation Starters: Why They Matter

Communication is the glue that holds relationships together.  The Common Core State Standards have emphasized group discussion as an important 21st century skill to prepare students for the group-think ethos of the modern day work world.  There are many tried & true techniques for implementing discussion in the classroom: Think-Pair-Share, Fishbowls, Turn & Talk.  Sage teachers know these discussions are important in all forms, whether they are quick exchanges or lengthy debates.

But, what about discussing ourselves?  Missing from the classroom is instruction on the skills students need to reflect on themselves and put those thoughts into words.  Sure, you say, they are living in a me-first! world: social media has put every child on a pedestal and all they do is talk about themselves!  Hear me out.

Yes, social media is teaching a generation of children the art of marketing themselves.  If you pay attention, they are seldom using words at all anymore.  Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook have enabled children to edit a series of catalogs of their life.  They are choosing the images they want to speak for them.

Well, I want to get kids to speak for themselves again, to think for themselves again and to think about themselves.  Let’s teach children to be metacognitive about what makes them tick.

Every Monday I will post a conversation starter with an objective and guidelines for teasing out your student’s sense of self.  This will be a new experience for most students and, as with all new skills, will take regular practice to improve.  This is why we will do this weekly.

Their ability to reflect on themselves, their personal beliefs and, importantly, the things which make them happy will give them the tools they need for making decisions they feel good about.

We owe it to our students to teach them to talk for themselves.  Check back on Monday for the first conversation starter!





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