Virtual Discourse - PEBC

Virtual Discourse

Yes, things are different. Everything is harder, and there are more loops than ever to go through to do the simplest task. So, what’s not different? In all my conversations with teachers over the last four months I continue to hear the same  things: They want their students to feel safe, loved, seen, and heard. They want thinking to happen and for kids to be able to have conversations about their learning. We want the same things that we’ve always wanted for our students, which means our core beliefs haven’t changed. This is what we have to remember as we go through any school year, and especially this one. 

At my core are two words: thinking and thriving. No matter what I am planning or teaching, I want to make sure that learners are the ones thinking and thriving. If they are doing the reading, writing, and talking, then they are the ones thinking. If they are the ones doing the work and feeling successful, then they will be thriving, which means they will develop agency and understanding through their learning. Three things need to happen for my learners to think and thrive. I need to

  • listen;
  • solicit feedback; and 
  • create opportunities for discourse.

So I did just that, after some feedback from the teachers I coach and support: I listened. I’ve been holding our meetings on Zoom and using breakout rooms for discussion, but, as teachers, they were expected to use Google Meet, which didn’t have the breakout room option. So they asked, “How do we have discourse without breakout rooms?” I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure because all of this was new, so I got creative because I needed my teachers to thrive.

As I started to plan for our next meeting, I thought about the go-to discourse protocols I use in the classroom: Turn and Talk, for sure, and then, what about a Fishbowl protocol?  Hmmm, how could I do that virtually?? I needed to go back to what I know. In the classroom, I would do a turn and talk with two students to model for the class. Why couldn’t I start that way with a Turn and Talk virtually?  If we start these routines virtually, they will transfer into our classrooms easily when we return. 

So here you go, two virtual protocols to use to promote discourse in a virtual setting, develop relationships, as well as help transition discourse into our face to face classrooms from remote learning. 

Virtual Turn and Talk

Be transparent about why you are using this protocol with students. I like to share a slide that details

  • what we are doing; 
  • why we’re doing it; and
  • how it’s going to look and sound. 

The last and most  important part of the protocol is asking about Community Needs. What does the group need to be mindful of as we go into this protocol? Allow students to make suggestions. This step is extremely important when engaging students in protocols. We want to roll them into the protocol, not roll it out on them. Write their suggestions down for the group as norms for participation. Most importantly the more that you use this strategy and make it a routine the more comfortable your learners will feel with talking on screen and sharing their thinking. 

HOW: Give students 1-2 minutes to think through an idea or question; ask for one volunteer to start the conversation. The first volunteer gets to pick a partner to talk to. Choice is, again, very important to ensure students want to talk and feel safe talking on screen. The first pair then gets 1-2 minutes to discuss while the rest of the class turns their cameras off and listens. Make sure to give those with their cameras off a lens for listening so that they stay focused on the conversation. Connect, Extend, Challenge can be a great lens for any Turn and Talk routine as well as what do you notice and wonder from their conversation? To get the most out of any turn and talk make sure they are given something worthy of talking about. 

Virtual Fishbowl

This step is an extension of the virtual Turn and Talk, so try that first to get students ready for a Fishbowl conversation. Use the same steps as in the protocol before;  make sure to explain the what, why, and how we are doing the virtual Fishbowl before asking for community needs. The difference with this one is that you would have more people, 3-5 with their cameras on having the discussion while everyone else listens with their cameras off. As you can see, I also added a Jamboard to this Fishbowl discussion so that participants with their cameras off could list aha’s, noticings, and wonderings from the discussion on the Jamboard. This was just one way to invite the audience to hold their thinking, as well as to hold them accountable to the discussion and their peers. After different groups have opportunities to be in the middle of the Fishbowl, you can use the thinking gathered in the graphic organizer (in this case, Jamboard) to further thinking and learning from the conversation. 

No matter what you do with these virtual discourse structures, always remember to listen to your heart and reference what is at your core as a teacher.  Our beliefs are what grounds us through any change we encounter. Creating routines in a virtual setting is very similar to what we would do in a classroom, just on a different platform. Make the time to create the space for what is important to you. As my colleague Kirsten Myers-Blake recently wrote in her blog, “We know better!” When I realized that I knew better, I had to do better. I invite you to be intentional, but don’t overthink it. Use tech, but don’t over-tech it. Sometimes pencil and paper are what’s best.  I hope you try these protocols, make them better, and have fun thinking and thriving!


Upcoming Courses and Institutes

Student Writing

Writing Institute: Teaching Argument Writing (2025)

Teaching argument is more than offering students a persuasive prompt and a formula; it’s about teaching students to analyze the data in order to form a claim, to back that claim with valid and reliable evidence, and to create an essay that a reader wouldn’t want to put down.
More Info

Minds on Math Institute (December 2024)

In this institute you will learn how to address all eight of the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice within workshop model instruction.
More Info

Facilitation Institute (Fall 2024)

In this engaging, expertly facilitated two-day workshop participants learn to craft quality questions, deepen listening skills, wield protocols effectively and navigate group dynamics with intent.
More Info


Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.