Equitable Discussions: Diverse voices lead to quality classroom discourse and meaningful learning

By: Leigh Ann Pernell


Students are more than empty vessels, quietly waiting to be filled by their all-knowing teacher. Kids thrive in classrooms where they are engaged because they have a voice. Empowering every student to share ideas and strategies makes each an active agent in the learning process. Equitable discussions are vital for the quality discourse that leads to meaningful learning and this comes when every voice is valued and heard.

So, how do we create a classroom climate that promotes equitable discussions? First, teach and model active listening. Talking comes easily, but genuine listening is a skill that must be valued and practiced. Active listeners have:

  • Watching eyes - Keep your eyes on the speaker—show your interest.
  • Listening ears - Focus on what is being said—not on what you want to say next.
  • Still voices and bodies - Respect the speaker and be engaged—give them your attention.

Next, make sure every student’s voice is heard. Strong voices can dominate class discussions and even the most well-meaning teacher can accidentally leave a voice unheard. Here are a few ways to make sure that all students have a chance to share and shine. 

    • Equity Sticks – Craft sticks, a marker, and two cups are all you need. Place each child’s name on a stick and put each in the discussion cup. Pull a name and that student is responsible for sharing ideas during the group discussion. Toss that stick into the listening cup. Continue until all have had a chance to speak. This keeps everyone on their toes and each student has an equal chance to share ideas. Our Student Sticks are great for this activity.
    • Think-Pair-Share – Students have one or two minutes to think about their answers to a question. Then they turn and share insights with their partners.
    • Implement Small-Group Discussion Teams – Students work together with a small group to reflect on discussion questions or solve problems as a team.
    • Penny for Your Thoughts – Students work in teams and each has a penny. Each student must place a penny in the bank before sharing an idea. One penny - one comment. Once everyone has had a turn, the pennies may be redistributed.
    • Story Stones – Pass the story stone to the speaker. Only the student with the stone may speak. After sharing, the stone is passed to another student.

    Promote student voice by varying your discussion structure from teacher dominated to student motivated. Students who have a voice in the classroom are more engaged and learning is more meaningful. Celebrate the gift of listening, the voice of each learner, and the meaningful discourse that promotes quality learning.

    Carson Dellosa Strives to Inspire Quality Discourse

    We offer a variety of materials that promote exploration and open the door for quality discourse as students share their learning. Here are a couple resources that will help inspire conversation and cooperative learning:

    • STEM Challenges – Young learners will be motivated by these challenges that offer diverse hands-on learning opportunities. These activities stimulate creativity, reasoning and problem solving, and allow for the sharing of ideas.
    • Interactive Notebooks – These creative, hands-on resources enhance the study of math, language arts, science, and social studies. After completing a task, students can share insights learned, compare strategies used, and discuss next steps to extend knowledge