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Gamify Discussion Time

By Jessica Aggrey
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Have you ever tried to lead a class discussion only to have the room either silent or the discussion dominated solely by the one or two students who feel confident enough to speak?

Learning how to effectively engage in academic discussions is important for students, but it can sometimes be overwhelming for them to figure out what to say, when to say it, and how to muster up the confidence to speak. I recently created a set of academic discussion cards for my advanced class to help scaffold academic conversation skills and to help encourage students to participate. You can preview them here.

academic discussion cards
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Academic Discussion Cards 12 pages 453 downloads

Use these cards to help scaffold academic language in a fun and competitive way....

Each time I’ve used these cards, I have had great success. The level of engagement and speaking in my class has greatly increased, and I feel that my students have really enjoyed the experience. In fact, after using these cards last week, one of my students told me that they were a really great idea.

To get started using these cards, you will want to print multiple sets of them. I recommend either printing each set on a different color of paper, or writing “set 1” “set 2” etc. on the back, so you can easily sort them back into sets if you divide them up for certain activities. If you print on card stock, then you can keep them for a long time and use them over and over.

Here are some ways that I’ve used them in my class so far:

Small Group Discussion:

I created a handout of these sentence frames, so students can review and practice them at home so they can be prepared for class competitions. Before the first time I used the cards, I first passed out this handout and had students look it over and identify phrases that were new or that they didn’t understand. Then we talked about these.

Next, I put students into small groups of 4 – 5 and gave each person in the group a stack of cards. I gave a each group a sheet with discussion topics, and I gave each person a score keeper. You can access these documents here.

Discussion score sheet

Next, I timed rounds for the students while they engage in a discussion. I told them to pick a new topic to discuss each round. At the end, I had students count their points to see who the winner was.

Team Discussion Competition

To practice whole class discussion, I divided several sets of cards up. So, I had four smaller stacks of pink cards, four smaller stacks of blue cards, etc. I randomly distributed the cards to students throughout the room. I told them that the people with the same color of cards were their teammates. On the whiteboard, I wrote “blue team,” “pink team” etc. I then asked students discussion questions that they had written on their reading logs. I used these slides to introduce the following rules for the discussion:

  • We will talk about the discussion questions. Try to join the conversation. If you can, say things from the cards. Raise your hand to be called on.
  • Each time you use a card correctly, you will earn points for your team. When you use a card, put it down on the desk in front of you. You can’t use it again for the rest of the discussion.
  • You can only hold the floor for at most 60 seconds each time and you can only play up to two cards each time you hold the floor.
  • You must let at least two other people talk before you join the conversation again.

After we talked about each question, I tallied up the points on the whiteboard for each team. I was happy with how much more participation there was in class. Next time I do this activity, I am going to try and structure it as follows to encourage more participation from the shy students. I’m going to have students who are on the same team sit together, so they can consult each other. I also plan to add the following rule:

  • You can’t join the conversation again until everyone else in your team has participated in the discussion.

If you try this in your class, I’d love to hear how it goes. How did you use them in your class? I’d love to hear your ideas.


Say Thanks. Get Jessica a cup of coffee.


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April 20, 2019

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