Discussion Strategies for History Class

Bryn Bonino
4 min readJan 8, 2019

If you pair how often we all communicate via text message and social media, then you look at the debates that take place in the public sphere over political and social issues, it becomes clear how important it is to teach students how to debate issues in a respectful way. This brings me to my research and this post on how to teach discussions in a social studies classroom. What follows are a few strategies that will get you prepared to teach students how to discuss an issue and base what they say on facts.

Pinwheel Discussion

A basic pillar of a history class is to get students to see how different actors of society will have differing points of view based on their world views. A pinwheel discussion gets students to take on the values of a section of society and other students will act as provocateurs to keep the discussion moving. I have used this type of discussion in conjunction with the Choices lessons from Brown University, and wrote about the resource and process in this post.

Socratic Seminar

When students are tasked with reading a long text, a Socratic Seminar can be a way for them to digest and problematize the material. In preparation, students need to all read the same text, and prepare points of interest and higher-order questions that relate to the text. During the discussion, students sit in a circle and one person will read a quote from the text and remark on it. The next student can respond to that remark, and use another part of the text as support. The discussion continues either because students become enthralled in the topic or because the teacher has a framework for evaluating students.

Spokane Public Schools offers this guide for students to evaluate each other in a socratic seminar. When students evaluate each other this also reinforces the skills that they themselves should be practicing, and it builds in a check to the lesson that will encourage students to participate and think critically about the lesson. This type of check can be done in a whole group discussion or when students are conducting the seminar in smaller groups. When in small groups, the teacher can circulate amongst the groups and observe student participation. During a whole-class discussion, the teacher can participate in the discussion…

Bryn Bonino

Educator, marketer, and photographer. Learn more at https://brynbonino.com