Idea 189: Talking Pencils (Equalising Participation in Group Discussions)

When groups are discussing a topic, you want to ensure everyone is having the chance to speak without having one student dominate proceedings. This idea is a simple way to try and equalise participation in discussions. I think the Kagan structure which works like this is called ‘Talking Chips’; the explanation below is how I use the activity in my class.

Talking Pencils

Pupils begin the discussion holding their pencil. When they have spoken and contributed something to their group discussion they get to place their pencil down in the middle of the table. They cannot share again until everyone else has placed their pencil in the middle of the table too. When everyone has put their pencil in the middle of the table, everyone can reclaim their pencils and the process starts over. This continues for a set time limit that you have told the students.

I like this idea as it helps balance participation in a group, but at the same time doesn’t get too rigid in terms of forcing pupils to take set turns in a certain order. The fact that you use something that pupils will have to hand anyway (pencils) means that you don’t need any special resources to run this activity, such as special ‘talking chips’ that you’d have to buy/make and which children might then fiddle with. Also, you don’t have to hand anything out, you can just say ‘Okay let’s do talking pencils!’.

When I use this activity I will often walk around and ask a student to explain to me what another pupil said when it was their turn to speak. This helps to encourage listening to everyone in the group.

EXAMPLE: We’re discussing what makes a good set of instructions, and the groups have some examples of instructions on their table to look over. I walk over to a group where three pencils have been placed in the middle, so I know that three of the four members have made a contribution.

ME: “Aidan, can you tell me what Molly said in her turn?”

AIDAN: “Err she said you need to have a heading that tells you what the instructions are about.”

Other discussions:

HISTORY What do you think holidays were like a hundred years ago?

SCIENCE Why aren’t cars made out of jelly?

MATHS (Works well with problem solving activities) How many ways can you think of to make 12 using the numbers 0 to 9?

ENGLISH What can we put in our first paragraph? What would be a good opener?

GEOGRAPHY How do you think life in El Salvador is different to life in the UK?



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