1. Create a classroom climate that supports meaningful discussion first. Before you attempt a Cafe Conversation in your classroom, spend a time teaching your students how to talk to one another. Remind them that they are going to be more mature than the people they watch on television. I share my Classroom Discussion Guidelines with my students, then we practice…everyday.
2. Prepare thoughtful, open-ended questions. Each group should contribute something new to the discussion. Be sure to write questions that allow for this.
3. Structure the conversation to fit both your own and your students needs. Think about your own personality and that of your students. Can you function, even thrive, in a chaotic environment? Can your students? I am a very organized person, and I teach freshmen. As such, my Cafe Conversations follow very specific guidelines. Each group is assigned to a very specific area on the posters. Each group member is told to write in a different color. A discussion count-down is projected in the front of the room. Posters move, students don’t. This works for me and my students. Find out what works for you.
4. Monitor student progress and adapt as necessary. As the discussion progresses, walk around the room. Answer questions. Clarify meaning. Nudge students back onto the task at hand.
5. Debrief the conversation. The end of the Cafe Conversation should not be the end of the discussion. Require that students briefly summarize the thoughts and ideas that ended up on their original poster. Have them look for patterns, question one another’s assumptions, and correct any errors. Then require them share their findings with the class. I have students record this information in their individual notebooks, allowing them to take the discussion with them.
One of the most important lessons I learned this year was that I cannot rely on my students to come into my classroom knowing how to interact with one another. Instead, it is my job to teach them. Below is the handout I use in my classroom to do just that. It is based on a technique called Accountable Talk, and it has changed the way my students interact with one another.
For more information about Accountable Talk, try the following resources: