How do you structure small group discussions to ensure full student engagement?

‘Wise men speak when they have something to say. Fools speak because they have to say something.’ — Plato

'Reluctant speakers try to avoid speaking both when they have something to say and have to say something.'
Every Classroom Teacher

If you’re working with small and medium-sized teams but haven’t yet experimented with Nomination Cards, this post may come in handy.

The Nomination Cards activity, designed by Tekhnologic, is one of the most efficient ways to structure discussions within small groups and ensure that every student is engaged. This activity works well with teenage students and adults alike. I’ve tried it both with learners and fellow educators, and each time, it was a real hit. As such, it’s quite easy to arrange the activity. Provide each group with a topic/question to discuss and a set of Nomination Cards. The first speaker shares their opinion on the topic, selects a card from the pile with the blank side up, and follows the directions.

Why do I like this activity?

I like it for several reasons:

  • It’s a simple solution (you won’t need to spend a lot of time explaining all the instructions);
  • It helps avoid dominant students because there is a random element, meaning reluctant speakers are more likely to be involved;
  • It helps prevent loafing when students choose to agree with what one student says, get engaged in doing something more meaningful for them, or relax into a social conversation (in their native language); and
  • It encourages student-centered discussion.

Some time ago, to save paper (and my time for printing out and cutting up the cards), I made a digital Nomination Cards Generator based on the Tekhnologic’s starter set of nomination cards. It was quite good, but we had to skip some turns whenever the team size was not matching. So, I came up with a second version. This time around, I’ve included more options so learners can choose how they want to form their teams and pick the Nomination Cards set that works best for them. I’ve also added a simple Count Out rhyme, and a speaker to read out the instructions.

Click on the image below to open the Nomination Cards.

The Cards generator is accessible through any device. It’s user-friendly—simply tap on a card to generate a new one. 

You can download the set of cards (pdf) and read more about them on the Tekhnologic’s blog Nomination Cards: Giving students a chance to speak.

If you have any suggestions or feedback about the Nomination Cards, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

Happy teaching!

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