Talk Cue Cards to Facilitate Discussion

I am working with a Grade 9 Language and Literature class in preparation for an upcoming summative in which they will select two adaptations of the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet to compare and contrast the ways in which they create dramatic tension. We have read the scene, watched the entire Baz Luhrmann adaptation, and collaboratively made observational notes on two other adaptations of the scene.

Throughout the learning thus far we have taken time for whole class, small group, and one-to-one discussion. Today’s objective was to have a structured small group discussion in which all students contributed using the type of language they will need for their summative.

I prepared these talk cue cards which I found the idea for in Cambridge’s ‘Thinking Together‘ website. In order to make the cards, I went to the assignment exemplar and copied sentences, removing the specific details. For example: Conflict between _______ is made more / less powerful in the ____ adaptation because of the use of _______.

I shared the cue cards with the students via Google Drive a few days in advance so that they could become familiar with them. In the discussion class, I printed five sets of the cue cards, put the students in mixed groups, and gave each group a set of cards.

  1. Groups distribute cards among members
  2. (5-10 minutes) Students gather their thoughts and review their notes on the adaptations of the play (I had not planned for this, but it quickly became evident that it was necessary).
  3. (15 minutes) Students discuss using the cards without their computers. Teacher goes around the room to support discussions.
  4. (15 minutes) Students continue discussion, but begin taking notes in a Google Document that is shared with the whole class, with a table section for each group to use. There are a few advantages to using a Google Doc:
    1. While students are completing their shared notes, the teacher can review the document and add questions to facilitate further discussion and address any common misunderstandings that emerge: without interrupting discussions!
    2. Students can see what other groups are coming up with
    3. Students will have access to the notes for review when they are preparing their for their summative task.

Here is a copy of the notes they created. My questions are in blue text, and in most cases the students added detail based on the questions.

After students had completed their discussion and notes, I had them choose a card and walk around the room while I played music. When I paused the music, they would find someone near them and each would share their thoughts. This was important mostly because they needed to move, and also because it allowed 1:1 discussions. It may have been more useful to add this mid-discussion rather than at the end of the discussions.

In the end, I had students complete a survey on using cue cards to facilitate discussion. Here were the results. It was a class of 20 students with one absent student, but I only got 17 responses, which means two students did not submit theirs. I did rush this and in the future will try to remember to give more time for reflection on learning experiences.

The first question was about how they feel about small group discussions -irregardless of cue cards. This is what they said, and it is nice to see that none of them dread small group discussions: 3/17 (approximately 1 in 6) LOVE class group discussion, and 9/17 ((more than 50%) find them helpful.

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 10.44.23 AM

The second question was about the impact of cue cards. As you can see not all students selected anything, which makes me think that either I did not give enough time for form completion, or 30% of the students had no opinion on the impact of the cards. 12/17 said it helped keep the discussion on track, and 10/17 said it helped them contribute and improved the discussion. One student said it did not affect the discussion. No students said that it made the discussion worse.

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 10.47.17 AMScreen Shot 2017-01-31 at 10.46.05 AM


In the optional open ended comment section, 9/17 wrote comments. One commented that they had nothing to say, one made the interesting point that the cards may “disturb the flow” of the discussion, and the other 7 discussed ways in which the cards were helpful.

The cue cards helped guide the discussion more, we stayed a lot more focus instead of getting side tracked.
For some people it may help them, but for me it didn’t really affect how I talked. Sometimes I felt like they could pressure the students into talking about a particular topic, which would stop or disturb the flow of the discussion.
don’t have one.
I think that the cards really helped me put my thoughts into different parts almost. For example if we were to have this discussion with no cards then I feel that my thoughts would be all mixed up and I wouldn’t know what to say. But the cards really helped my put my thoughts into different sections.
It helps us form a sentence using our idea.
It gave us a very good scaffold which helped us keep on track.
Using the cue cards makes sure everyone has something to say, and if you are short on coming up with something, the cue card is there to help you. It helps keep the conversation going and varied. If you are working with people you don’t really work with before, the cue cards are a really good way of breaking the ice and starting conversations. Making the cue cards with words and phrases we will be using in our summative assignment helps us get into the spirit of it. Maybe also just writing down the main ideas on a cue card could help start a conversation.
It also remind us the topic to talk about that we might missed during the discussion.
The cue cards, gave us an idea of what to talk about, and how we are supposed to write it in the summative
I am definitely interested in using Talk Cue Cards again, and am curious about collaborating with other teachers to make talk cue card banks. I have been thinking about what sentence structures to use and toyed with the idea of using famous speeches to create them.


A little side note on sharing documents with students and giving them editing rights: I had pasted in the quote below from the task sheet in plain text, and a student added the bold and underline: “Your scene comparison should: ‘compare and contrast the way in which they create dramatic tension.‘” Another student added the screenshot of the definition of dramatic tension you can see in the linked document above.

Update Feb 2017: I made Talk Cue Cards to facilitate reflection after the summative assignment was complete. I even managed to work in gratitude practice with “I am grateful for this assignment because…”. As I circulated I noticed that sometimes students were sharing a sentence and then moving on for the next student to share. We had previously practiced an activity I learned from Kath Murdhoch called 5 Whys, where students answer a question and a partner asks ‘why’ for five consecutive developments on the answer. I told the students to use their 5 whys and the conversations got deeper.

Afterwards, I had the students write in a document shared only with me called “What I think” to tell me their thoughts on the assignment using the Talk Cue Card discussions to give them ideas. No grade, no grammar, no structure, no word count. These reflections will help me understand the students as individual learners and give me ideas for supporting future assignments.

“Resources for Teachers.” Thinking Together, University of Cambridge » Resources for Teachers. Faculty of Education, 2017, Web. 30 Jan. 2017.

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