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Debriefing activities for science discussions

Debriefing after a science investigation is essential for deepening the learning. The teacher conducts the debriefing and may choose to do this in several ways. Here are some suggestions:

Concentric circles
After a science lesson, invite students to write a numbered list of things they learned. This can be Big Ideas, details or facts—a quick list of things they remember from the lesson. Next, arrange half of the students in a circle, facing outward, and the other half of the students facing them, thus forming an inner and an outer circle. Beginning with the inside circle, students use their lists and tell their circle partner ONE of the things on their list. This gets the conversation started, and both partners talk. Ring a bell and instruct the outside circle to move to the next person, and then the outside person begins by telling one thing to the new partner. Continue until students have gone all the way around the circle.

Sticky notes
Hang a large sheet of paper on the wall—labeling two columns “Ah-ha” and “Appreciation." Invite students to write their “Ah-ha’s” (new learning) on the sticky notes, one idea on each note. Do the same for “Appreciation” so that children have a chance to say and write what they appreciated about the way their group worked during the lesson.

Ask a challenging or open-ended question to students and give them a minute to think about it. Students then pair with a nearby classmate and discuss their responses to the question for several minutes. Then debrief the whole class and compare responses.

The forest vs. the trees
Explain the concept of “the forest and the trees” to students—BIG ideas/theories/concepts vs. facts/details. Invite students to review the science lesson by brainstorming a list of the details they learned. Then guide them in a discussion that groups the details into categories. Finally, invite students to label categories with titles. Those titles then become the Big Ideas or concepts of the science lesson.

Parent-led small groups
Invite parents to meet with small groups of students for discussion. Give parents a time frame for this discussion and ask them to fill the time by engaging ALL students. At the designated time, ask each small group to report back about their discussion.

Questions and (maybe) answers
After a science lesson, invite students to generate a list of questions—just questions, without the focus on getting answers. Post the following question starters so that students can direct their questions to the content of the science lesson:

  1. What is the main idea of …?
  2. What conclusions can I draw about …?
  3. What if …?
  4. Can you explain why …?
  5. How does … affect …?
  6. What is the difference between … and …?
  7. What is a new example of …?
  8. How are … and … similar?
  9. Explain how …?
  10. How would I use … to …?
  11. What is the best … and why?
  12. What are the strengths and weaknesses of …?

Lead an all-class discussion on possible answers to the most compelling of these questions.

Key Words: management, leading discussions, debriefing, cooperative groups