Strategy of the Week: Tracing the Class Discussion

One of the hardest tasks I find teachers struggling with is letting go of control in a whole class discussion.  When I go into classrooms and observe discussions, many times I will see teachers front and center in the room. Instead of talking to each other, students want to face forward and tell the teacher what they think the teacher wants to hear.  A few years ago I came across a template in Kelly Gallagher’s book, In the Best Interest of Students (pgs. 173-4), and have shared it with teachers ever since!



Use this tool when you have students participate in a whole class discussion about a text. This forces the teacher to focus on the students guiding the discussion vs. the teacher leading the discussion. This also provides you with a visual that shows the history of who spoke (and how many times), and what each person contributed to the conversation.


  1. Organize your desks so students are facing one another when discussing the text or topic.
  2. Explain to your students that you will be tracing the trajectory of the conversation and scoring their participation on three categories: speaking, evidence, and leadership
  3. The conversation does not have to move in any particular order. Each time someone speaks, draw a line from the last speaker to the current speaker and add a symbol by their name to help you remember what that student contributed to the conversation.

Tracing the Conversation Blank Template


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