Thinking through how to teach SL.1-3 in middle school ELA is tough because there are so many pieces and nuances to helping students become great speakers and conversationalists. In this post, we’ll dig into the first three standards under the Speaking and Listening umbrella in the Common Core Standards.
It all begins with a handshake.
In my classroom, anytime my students enter the room to start a professional conversation, I ask them to shake the hands of the people who are also participating in the conversation. The handshake sets a tone of respect.
Conversations, especially professional ones, are hard to emulate in a middle school classroom. Students lack the ability to make connections between topics and are usually held up by limited background knowledge and life experiences.
We do our best, though, to help them work through the discomfort and uncertainty of a professional conversation by using strategies like Socratic Seminars to help them practice.
In this post, we are going to be focusing on the first three standards under the Speaking and Listening umbrella in the Common Core. We’ll provide the learning targets we focus on, some activity ideas, and the rules we follow to make our Socratic Seminar-style discussions more effective for our middle school students.
As we start talking about how to teach SL.1-3 in middle school, let’s start with the learning targets!
By focusing on learning targets, we can model our lessons to hit on very specific goals and skills for each standard. In this post, we discuss how we break down each standard and make a plan for learning, practicing, and reviewing the standards throughout the year using the checklists below.
These checklists allow us to look at our year as a whole and identify the nuances between the grade levels for each standard.
Here are the learning targets on which we developed our resources for SL.1-3.
7th Grade Standard: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on Seventh Grade topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly, analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in diverse media and formats, and delineate a speaker’s argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
7th Grade Learning Targets
- I can prepare for a class discussion and participate by referring to my findings during the discussion, asking questions to respond to others, and acknowledging new ideas expressed in the discussion.
- I can analyze the main idea/supporting details in the information presented in diverse formats and explain how the information clarifies the topic under study.
- I can identify a speaker’s argument and specific claims and evaluate the soundness of the reasoning and the speaker’s use of persuasive techniques.
8th Grade Standard: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly; analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats and evaluate the motives; as well as delineate a speaker’s argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness, relevancy, and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.
8th Grade Learning Targets
- I can read or research material under study in preparation for the discussion, track progress toward specific goals and deadlines, and draw explicitly on that preparation by referring to evidence to probe or reflect on ideas under discussion.
- I can follow rules for collegial discussions and decision-making — define individual roles as needed, pose questions that connect the ideas of several speakers, respond with relevant evidence, observations, and ideas, acknowledge new information expressed by others, and justify views in light of new evidence.
- I can analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats, evaluate the motives behind its presentation, outline a speaker’s argument and specific claims, evaluate the quality of the evidence, and identify irrelevant evidence.
My Tips for Socratic Seminars
One of the most effective ways to run a classroom discussion that I’ve found has been through the Socratic Seminar.
Lots of teachers use Socratic Seminars and have their own way of working through them, but these are my tips.
These tips are also available in my resources for this unit. Please click on the links below to get more information on the full units for both 7th and 8th grade.
The resources include a lesson/activity for each specific learning target or concept and also include assessments, posters, and answer keys.
Now for my Top Socratic Seminar Tips!
#1 | Choose a topic and give your students time to prepare. Don’t spring the topic on them and expect them to have a productive conversation. They are not developed enough for that yet.
#2 | Sit outside the circle and away from the group. Make sure you can observe but not be an actual part of the conversation or distract from it.
#3 | Don’t interfere. Despite how much you want to, don’t get involved in the conversation. This may result in awkward pauses, or the conversation may go askew, but that’s okay. This is their practice, not yours!
#4 | Refrain from shifting the conversation in any way!
#5 | Observe all the students (not just the speakers). Your role is to offer feedback and assess students in both the speaking and listening roles.
#6 | Try to offer at least one piece of useful feedback to each student. This is practice, and they need feedback to improve!
Activities and Projects for Practicing and Assessing SL.1-3 in Middle School
- Provide Socratic Seminar Prep Handouts: Help guide conversation with a handout that gives students some things to look for while prepping for a Socratic Seminar. I like providing them with a handout that has places for them to write down claims, citations, and counterclaims. This handout is available in both our 7th and 8th-grade resources.
- Teacher Note Sheets: Since giving feedback is important, make up a teacher note sheet that you can use to quickly organize information and jot down feedback for each student. This handout is also available in our resources.
- Focus on presentational techniques such as photography, theatre, and film. Learning more about these visual techniques will help students see how different visuals can support or distract from a claim. We have activities focusing on different forms of media in the 7th grade unit.
- Start with a handshake. Teach students about handshakes and encourage them to shake hands with other people whom they will be talking with as part of a Socratic Seminar or conversation. Go over the techniques associated with a professional handshake and discuss why it’s important socially. We have handouts for handshakes in both unit resources!
The speaking and listening standards are pretty broad, but they do key in on a few specific skills they want students to get down at each grade level. Use your learning targets to focus on these skills, and then use resources like the ones listed above as you figure out how to teach SL 1-3 in middle school ELA.