Academic Discourse Mini-Lessons
January 27, 2020

Our learning goes deeper when we’re able to engage in rich discussions with other learners. So how are we equipping students to engage in collaborative discussions? Do we explicitly teach students how to explore their own thinking? Do we have protocols in place for listening and responding? Use this series of mini-lessons to empower students to lead their own learning through academic discourse. 

MINI-LESSON 1

Ask “What is discourse?” Define “discourse” as “using words to communicate ideas” and emphasize the use of academic discourse in learning experiences. Ask, “Why do we need discourse at school?” Next, invite students to discuss what discourse looks like and sounds like. Capture student thinking on a t-chart or anchor chart. 

Academic Discourse

Looks Like

Sounds Like

  • Sitting, standing up tall 
  • Leaning in, listening
  • Tracking the speaker
 

  • Asking and answering questions
  • Noting key ideas
  • Adding on to others’ ideas
  • Varies based on group size

 

MINI-LESSON 2

Discuss what it means to “unpack thinking.” Invite students to imagine a suitcase filled with their ideas about a topic. Share that we sometimes call what we already know about a topic or an idea our “schema.” When we “unpack our thinking,” we take each idea out and explore it, relating what we think or believe to what we know or may have experienced in the past. It may sound like “I think…because…” or “I predict…because…”

Unpack Your Thinking

I think…because…

I predict…because…

I believe…because… 

I noticed…

My opinion is that…because…                   

One idea is… 

MINI-LESSON 3

Consider ways to respond to others. Share that there are several ways to respectfully respond to others’ thinking. Share and define ways to respond and solicit student thinking about what each response style might sound like. 

PARAPHRASING

When we repeat or restate an idea in our own words.

Sounds like…

  • Let me see if I understand you correctly. You are saying that…
  • You think that…
  • Your opinion is…
  • In other words, you are saying…
  • I hear you saying that… 
SUMMARIZING

When we recap our thinking in a brief statement.

Sounds like…

  • My point is…
  • My overall idea is…
  • What I’m trying to say is… 
CLARIFYING

When we ask to make learning easier to understand by removing confusion.

Sounds like…

  • I have a question about…
  • Can you explain what you mean by…? 
  • Would you mind explaining that in another way? 
  • Can you say more about…? 
DEFENDING

When we support our thinking.

Sounds like…

  • Let me explain how I came to that conclusion. 
  • This example supports my thinking by…   
  • The evidence that supports my thinking is…  
UNPACKING YOUR OWN THINKING

When we share and explore our own ideas.

Sounds like…

  • I think…because…
  • I predict… because…
  • I believe…because… 
  • I noticed…
  • My opinion is that…because…
  • One idea is… 
COMPARING THOUGHTS: Agreeing

When we explain why we agree with an idea. 

Sounds like…

  • I agree with…because…
  • I see things similarly because…
  • My process is similar…
  • My thinking is similar because…
LINKING

When we make connections to other people’s thinking. 

Sounds like…

  • I can add to that…
  • I’d like to add on to…
  • This reminds me of…
  • I can connect to…
  • That reminds me of… 
  • This makes me think about… 
QUESTIONING

When we seek the ideas of others.

Sounds like…

  • What did you think about…? 
  • Why do you think…? 
  • What did you notice about…? 
  • I wonder about…
COMPARING THOUGHTS; Disagreeing

When we explain why we disagree with an idea. 

Sounds like…

  • I have another way of looking at this because…
  • I see things somewhat differently…
  • My process is different…

 

MINI-LESSON 4

Practice with a partner. Take turns engaging in discourse using Academic Discourse (Blank) or Thought Bubbles

    • Partner 1: Unpack your thinking. 
    • Partner 2: Select a way to respond, using the lotus diagram. 
Scenario #1     Should dogs be allowed at the beach? Give two or three reasons why. 
Scenario #2 Should recess be required? Share two reasons for your thinking. 
Scenario #3 Should students be required to wear uniforms to school? Defend your thinking.
Scenario #4 Should students be allowed to grade their teachers? Explain your thinking. 

 

We can help our students to be courageous in sharing their own thinking to be considerate in responding to the ideas of others. Let’s use these mini-lessons, an anchor chart or two, and our great resources below to get started. 

 

Classroom Resources: 

 

Learn More: 

Looking for more ways to increase student engagement? Watch Up Engagement With Student Hand Signals, download the Student Hand Signals resource, and work with students to learn and practice them. Post them where everyone can see, or hand them out while everyone is learning.


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