Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Discussion Strategies for Online Learning (ELA)

Brandy Hackett, Shayna Pond, Margaret Salesky | Published: March 22nd, 2022 by K20 Center


Discussions are a natural, common practice in ELA classrooms. It is a daily challenge to engage students face-to-face, but engaging students online can feel especially difficult. This presentation introduces strategies that can effectively spark ideas for both face-to-face and virtual discussions: First Turn/Last Turn; Chalk Talk; Collaborative Word Cloud; and I Think/We Think. Teachers can use these four discussion strategies either synchronously or asynchronously to promote student participation. Come learn effective ways to encourage conversation in the classroom.

Essential Questions

  • What does discussion look like in an online ELA classroom?

  • What does active engagement in discussion look like online?

Learning Goals

  • Participants will implement a variety of synchronous and asynchronous discussion strategies to improve and enhance substantive student conversations.

Materials List


Welcome participants and briefly introduce yourself and the professional development session.

Open the In-Person or Virtual Presentation Slides. Use the slide deck that is most appropriate for the session.

Go to slide 3. Show the infographic and give directions for a "Quick Poll." Read the question on the slide, "On a scale of 1-5, how much do you identify with this image?" Explain the scale and provide the participants with access to the pre-created poll. Give them an opportunity to respond:

  • 1= I do not relate at all.

  • 5= I relate completely.

Review the results of the poll with participants. Ask for volunteers to discuss their responses.

Display slide 4. After participants have discussed their place on the scale of 1-5, introduce the strategy, This Session Will Be a Success If . . . . Ask participants to respond candidly to the question: "What would make this session successful for you?"

Show slide 5. Review the Essential Questions that will guide the session. If there is discussion, ask a participant to scribe the responses.

Show slide 6. Review session objective to provide a roadmap of where you will go together during the session. At this point in the session, let participants know what to expect from the session.

Show slide 7 to review the cognitive load consideration.


Show slide 8. Introduce the video and let participants know that they will be asked to respond to the video in a group activity later in the session. Show the video "Teacherless Online Classroom-Discussion Bored (sic)".

Show slide 9. When participants have watched the video, briefly introduce the four strategies that they will explore in the session:

  • Collaborative Word Clouds

  • Chalk Talk

  • I Think/We Think

  • First Turn/Last Turn

Show slide 10. Break participants into four groups (or more, depending on the size of the whole group). Assign each group to a different strategy to explore. Provide each group with a copy of the strategy directions (Group Strategy Slides). Ask participants to complete the activity in their groups, using the video as their "text."

  • Group 1 will complete a Collaborative Word Cloud activity (Group Strategy Slides, slides 1-4).

  • Group 2 will complete a Chalk Talk activity (Group Strategy Slides, slides 5-8).

  • Group 3 will complete an I Think/We Think activity (Group Strategy Slides, slides 9-11).

  • Group 4 will complete a First Turn/Last Turn activity (Group Strategy Slides, slides 12-13).

Let groups know that they will be sharing out their thoughts about the assigned strategy with the whole group afterward the activities are completed.

Provide time (about 10-15 minutes) for groups to explore their given activity. Give groups a five-minute and two-minute warning so that they can wrap up their thoughts. Ask groups to choose someone from their group to lead the share out.


Go to slide 11. Collaborative Word Clouds. (Virtual Presentation Slides: Slides 10-13).

Ask Group 1 to present on Collaborative Word Clouds. (If more than one group tried Collaborative Word Clouds, ask those groups to present as well.) After the presenters debrief with the group, go to slide 12 and review how Collaborative Word Clouds can be used synchronously and asynchronously in the classroom.

Go to slide 13. Chalk Talk. (Virtual Presentation Slides: Slides 14-18).

Ask Group 2 to present on Chalk Talk. (If more than one group tried Chalk Talk, ask those groups to present as well.) After the presenters debrief with the group, go to slide 14 and review how Chalk Talk can be used synchronously and asynchronously in the classroom.

Go to slide 15. I Think/We Think. (Virtual Presentation Slides: Slides 19-22).

Ask Group 3 to present on I Think/We Think. (If more than one group tried I Think/We Think, ask those groups to present as well.) After the presenters debrief with the group, go to slide 16 and review how I Think/We Think can be used synchronously and asynchronously in the classroom.

Go to slide 17. First Turn/Last Turn. (Virtual Presentation Slides: Slides 23-25).

Ask Group 4 to present on First Turn/Last Turn. (If more than one group tried First Turn/Last Turn, ask those groups to present as well.). After the presenters debrief with the group, go to slide 18 and review how First Turn/Last Turn can be used synchronously and asynchronously in the classroom.

Take a moment to ask participants to open up their Note Catcher handout to reflect on the instructional strategies explored. Participants may note how each strategy supports authentic instruction. These notes will be an effective reference tool they can take with them after the session.

Go to slide 19 and review the reflection questions with participants.


Show slide 19.

Ask participants to open up the Strategy Reflection Slides. Use the Chalk Talk strategy to add ideas to the slides to answer the following questions:

  • Which of these four strategies would you like to implement in your classes?

  • Do you have a text or topic in mind?

  • Do you plan to use the strategy synchronously or asynchronously?

Give participants 5 minutes (or more depending on computer factors) to complete the activity.

Show the Strategy Reflection Slides to the whole group and ask volunteers to share out what they wrote/plan on what they will take back back to use in their own instruction.


Go to slide 20 (Slide 27 in Virtual Slides) and revisit the "Quick Poll."

  • Open the poll and examine the previous answers.

  • Ask participants, "After hearing some ideas for discussion strategies, have your thoughts changed?" "

    Do you feel this image will represent your class still?"

  • After conducting the new poll, discuss the results and debrief with the group.