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Helping students become discussion leaders

High school students are often reticent to speak in front of a group. One way that teachers can help students overcome this fear and even become discussion leaders is to try the “human videotape” technique developed by Rick Wormeli, author of Meet me in the middle: Becoming an accomplished middle level teacher.*

The idea is to have one student (the videotape) present a paper to the class while another student (the facilitator) holds a discussion with the class using a remote to “control” the videotape. The facilitator of the discussion decides when to stop the video and ask questions of the audience by calling out “freeze frame.” The presenter immediately stops while the facilitator asks the rest of the class some pertinent questions. If no one can answer correctly, the presenter points the remote at the videotape and says “rewind” and then “play” indicating that the presenter should begin reading. The facilitator will continue to stop the video and ask questions that have been previously prepared. Special note: The teacher, acting as the facilitator, should model the “human videotape” technique so the students can see how the process works.

This technique could be used when students are asked to present formal reports such as an I-Search or a research paper to the rest of the class. The facilitator would have read the paper beforehand in order to formulate the types of questions that s/he wanted to ask of the presenter. The idea behind this activity is to give students an opportunity to take on a leadership role in a comfortable environment while the audience hones their listening skills.

Sample facilitator questions

  1. What two points has the presenter made so far?
  2. Can we rewind the tape to see if that’s correct?
  3. What new information have you heard?
  4. What prediction can we make about the topic?
  5. Watch carefully. Can you see any idea that you can relate to your own life?

Reflection questions for the teacher

  • Did the class listen attentively? Why or why not?
  • Was the facilitator prepared with enough questions?
  • Did I preview the facilitator’s questions beforehand?
  • Did I model this technique effectively?
  • Will I continue to use this technique as is or do I need to make any changes?

*Wormeli, R. (2001). Meet me in the middle: Becoming an accomplished middle level teacher. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.