Looking for ways to create student-centered discussions

Hey Formative folks! So one goal I have this year is to make classroom discussions more student-centered. In the past, I’ve been pretty good at picking out examples of student work, projecting them at the front of the class ,and having students identify mistakes. That being said, it still feels like I am somewhat GPSing kids towards the “answer”.

Does anyone have any ideas for creating more student-centered discussions? Although I teach math, I’d appreciate feedback regardless of what subject you teach!



Hey Adam! I am definitely no expert at this and would love to hear everyone else’s ideas as well. That being said, as a fellow math teacher I can tell you that some of the best discussions I’ve heard in my classroom are when students are talking in groups and I am taking a back seat.

What do you usually hope to accomplish when holding a class discussion. If making sure that students are giving each other great feedback, here’s a model that I love to share with my students. It’s from Alice Leung (@aliceleung on Twitter).


Hi Adam!

I love that goal. Student-centered activities/discussions are definitely key to deeper understanding and meaningful learning. Teachthought.com is an amazing resource when it comes to generating ideas to get encourage active learning. Here are 28 Student-Centered Instructional Strategies you can use to activate student engagement.

My go to strategy will always be small group discussions. I split students into groups of 4-5, then I place a baggie with at least 4 discussion topic strips in the center of the group. They have to discuss each of the topic strips in the baggie, and set a timer for 4-5 minutes per topic strip (depending on the size of each group, each student needs at least one minute to talk). Each member of the group has to contribute to the discussion too. Then we share out as a group about the most “talked about” topic strip amongst the groups. It’s a lot of fun for everyone :smiley:

I hope this info helps!



One of my goals definitely is to help students give each other better feedback. This is a really useful model. I am going to share it with my whole class so we can try it in a whole-group discussion and perhaps once they have some practice with it, use it for turn and talks.

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The topic strip activity sounds like a great activity to try with my students. I like that they are picking the topics out of a bag and I could see that being really engaging for my students. Do you have a structure for who pulls the topic out of the bag and reads it to the group? This might be a nice thing to alternate and to help hold students accountable.


Hi @Adam_Lincoln!! I’m glad you like the topic strip activity!! I should have mentioned that each student is responsible for selecting a topic strip and facilitating the discussion for that particular topic. They have to read the topic strip out loud, and get the discussion started. I hope that info helps! Let me know how it goes when you use it with your students!


I like the notice and wonder strategy. Have kids write what they notice and wonder individually and then post what they want at the front of the class. Use this to drive the discussion by asking clarifying questions or extending what students have noticed and wondered. Also, we all notice and wonder, so there are no barriers to entry. I’ve done it with EL kids and had just as much success as with nonELs. Plus, it’s fun.


@Adam_Lincoln - Also, you could embed a Today’s meet at the top or bottom of your formative to get students actively talking about the concept before and after to show where they are before the lesson and where they arrive at the end of the lesson. @david did an Appsmashing Webinar that is on this site to show how to embed the Today’s meet. Make sure that you make it Live and that you hit “other” to get the embed code. Have a great day.


@Marco_Drapeau thanks man! I will definitely let you know how it goes!

@moonekev I like this strategy a lot. It means we could actually focus discussion on what they are noticing rather than what I am wanting them to see. Also, I totally agree about this potentially removing barriers to participation. Some of my students are hesitant to be the first ones to raise their hands or to raise their hands at all. This is a nice way to give every student the opportunity to process what they are seeing and share their thinking. Have you used Formative or other technology to do this?

@Lisa_Scumpieru This sounds like a great idea too. I know that some of my students are definitely more comfortable in a chatroom setting as opposed to always have verbal discussions. Have you found that some students become “too comfortable”? If so, how do you prevent this? I have yet to watch the webinar, but will definitely have to check it out.