Small group and full classroom discussions encourage sharing among your students. Though each lesson and activity uses slightly different dialogue techniques, some general methodological principles apply to all of them. The following principles, adapted from the work of Sr. Kieran Saywer, SSND.
Give everyone a chance to record his or her response in some way before asking any individual to respond orally. The pre-response might be written, drawn, shown with hand signals, or indicated by body positions. Make the pre-response easy by asking a very specific question with a concrete answer, by providing a sentence-starter to be completed, by giving a spread of answers to choose from. This technique gets everyone involved in answering the question, makes it clear that there is a spread of opinion on the answer rather than the one “right” response, and creates the need for an individual to examine a position contrary to other ideas being presented.
Make it easy to get the dialogue started by designated the first speaker, often in a humorous way; for example, the person with the curliest hair, the person with the next birthday, the person wearing the brightest clothing. Each person (in a small group) will then take a turn sharing. The starter designation usually creates a burst of laughter, thus further relaxing the group.
Tell the students that the sharing must always be done freely. If at any time, a student is asked a question he or she doesn’t know how to answer, nor does not want to answer in public, the student simply says “pass.” If students choose to respond, however, their answers should be as honest as possible. The pass option is, perhaps, the single most powerful technique in creating an atmosphere where open dialogue can happen. Given the choice of either answering honestly or passing, young people almost always want to answer. But the pass is always there as a safe and easy way out when thing get uncomfortable. It is imperative that the pass option be respected by the teacher and by all the students.
Move the dialogue gradually from light, easy topics to more serious ones. The easier sharing teaches the technique and warms the students, thus facilitating deeper sharing.
Help your group see the important role of the listener in the dialogue process. A person is encouraged to share by sensing that someone is really listening. Everyone in the class or small group shares in the listening role. It is important for all the students to pay direct attention to the speaker, to respond facially to what is said, and to ask follow-up questions. The teacher should be especially present to each speaker; at the same time the teacher will need to be careful not to become the focus toward which all questions, answers, and comments are directed.