Shut Up and Let the Kids Talk: 5 Ideas for Inspiring Lively Student Discussions in Your Classroom

Teaching in a way that weaves together different teaching topics can be intimidating. Many teachers have the opportunity to work in schools that create a cross-curricular environment as a part of their mission and vision. Other teachers learn cross-curricular skills through their education degree programs. If you’re not lucky enough to teach in learn in one of those special circumstances, the idea of integrating poetry into your genetics unit might feel daunting.

A bite-sized suggestion: Use discussion topics during warm-ups to get started.

Raise your hand if you love starting class by rolling right into the content. If you’re that teacher, I salute you. But I, like many of my students, need a gentle start to my science class. After greeting students at the door (during a non-pandemic school year), I always start class with a funny anecdote, video, or check in. During our remote learning reality, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about providing students with discussion topics that hit upon a few different content areas.

Today’s warm up is a great example. We have several violins sitting around our house, including a super-cute 1/8th-sized instrument. I was in a Mozart-y mood, so I pulled out the violin and we started talking. Question: How is a violin a science topic? Now shift it to math: What can we learn about violins using math? Did violins always come in fractional sizes?

Teaching with artifacts is a great tool for sparking conversation. Just having an object to discuss can help students crawl out of their shells and open themselves to the experience of learning. But every cross-curricular topic doesn’t have to be based on an artifact. Keep it simple!

Where to find cross-curricular discussion topics:

  1. Look it up! There are a tremendous number of premade discussion topics out there that are easily searchable by topic using your laptop. Try, “biology history”, or “famous mathematicians,” and see if there is a short story or appropriate anecdote you can share.
  2. Use your own experience. This can be an area where it is easy to share too much or to veer off into a questionable talking space, so be careful to stay school-appropriate. Did you have a great visit at a National Park that intersects social studies and science topics?
  3. Read up! There are many books out there that provide cross-curricular topics for discussion as warm ups. Some even have design challenges or drawing activities included.
  4. Read teacher blogs! Many teachers provide discussion topics pulled from their own experiences in the classroom. We’re a world-wide community!
  5. Breaking News. Check out current events for discussion topics to use in your classroom.

So how and when in a lesson would you carve out space for a cross-curricular discussion? In my classroom, I learned from a wonderful mentor to use slide agenda decks to structure my lessons. I add fun warm up questions to the first slide, and when I’m in the classroom, project those questions onto my interactive whiteboard.

Starting at the beginning of the year, I norm students to come into the classroom, settle into their seats, take out the necessary supplies for class, and then start discussing with their peers. In my classroom I have tables, so students are already sitting in neat groups. I’ve also added stickers to desks, sort of Garanimals style, to match kids up for discussions. At the end of a discussion question, I check in with a few students, pulling their names off of equity sticks. This is a great check in with students, and also a nice ease-in to our day.

Teaching in a cross-curricular way doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Try this bite-sized strategy for getting started on crosswalking curriculum.

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