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An Introduction to Project-Based Learning

On-Demand. Watch Anytime!

Presented by Dedra Stafford


Join Dedra to learn the key elements of project-based learning (PBL) and how it can transform your classroom. PBL can make the classroom real and relevant with applications to your students’ lives and the world. Discover resources that cover all content areas and develop higher-order thinking skills. Leave with the basic understanding of this trending practice and the tools to get you started in a project-based learning environment.

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Better Classroom Conversations

Here are some guidelines and conversation starters you can use in the classroom.

1. Share Thinking

“I believe that ________ because ________.”

“This reminds me of ________ because ________.”

“Overall, I think that ________.”

“My point is ________.”

“A question I have is ________.”

“I wonder why ________.”

2. Ask For Evidence

“Can you give me an example?“

“Why do you say that?“

“Show me.“

“Like what?“

“What’s your evidence?“

“How do you justify that?”

3. Build On Ideas From Others

“I agree that ________ because ________.”

“I agree that ________, but ________.”

“I want to add that ________.”

“That idea reminds me that ________.”

“I like what ________ said because ________.”

“I’m not sure I agree with you because ________.”

4. Give Evidence

“For example, ________.”

“According to the text, ________.”

“Let me show you what I mean.”

“It says right here that ________.”

“An illustration of this could be _________.”

“This is an example of ________.”


Download a PDF of this tip sheet: SDE-Tips-Classroom-Conversations-Lambert

5 Steps Toward Intentional Classroom Conversations

Coaching students to engage in worthwhile academic discussion begins with intentionality. You have to teach students how to listen to and talk to each other.

Have you ever asked students to “turn and talk” to a partner or small group? You may have noticed one of two scenarios. In the first, an air of doubt creeps across the class. And students, not knowing what to say or how to say it, remain silent. In the second, students comply with your request, but their pseudo exchanges lack the meaningful dialogue needed to develop deeper content knowledge. Either way, it’s not what you hoped for.

This article looks at a step-by-step plan you can follow to build better classroom conversations at any grade level or within any subject.

Step 1: Assign Partners

Begin by assigning each student an academically and socially compatible partner. Match students with similar performance data, and make sure they can work together well. Avoid assigning random partners from the start. There will be time for that later once listening and speaking expectations are modeled and reinforced.

Also, wait before asking students to share their thinking within groups. When we ask students to discuss ideas in groups of four or five, we often give reluctant voices permission to not participate and grant more assertive voices the license to control the conversation. In their book, Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking, Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford emphasize paired conversations. As they explain, partner work allows “half of the students in a class to talk at any one time” and “forces a partner to focus on and listen to what the other is saying.” Of course, that requires we teach our students to listen closely.

Step 2: Practice Paraphrasing     

For classroom conversations to support deeper content understanding, the students involved must do more than simply wait for their turn to talk. They must actually listen to each other’s ideas. In Content-Area Conversations, authors Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Carol Rothenberg point out that “the listener also has responsibilities” because “true discussion needs the active participation of others if there is to be an exchange of ideas.”

You can teach students to self-monitor their listening by using the art of paraphrasing. Instead of asking students to share a verbatim recount of what they heard, show them how to paraphrase what a partner said by putting it into their own words. This gives meaning, and sometimes clarification, to what was said. You can stress listening by planning lessons in which partners only paraphrase each other’s ideas.

Step 3: Practice Responding

Once students are comfortable paraphrasing each other, provide them with opportunities to respond to each other. This could mean challenging the thinking of a partner by asking for evidence, giving evidence, or building on the ideas already shared. Use response frames to support learners who are not sure how to frame their reaction to a partner’s thoughts. For example, “Show me where it says…” indicates a partner wants proof to support what she heard. “Another idea I have…” says a partner wants to add to what he heard his partner say.

Support this level of scholarly dialogue by posting response frames and prompts around the classroom. However, keep these frames as options and scaffolds to encourage more genuine exchanges.

Step 4: Jigsaw Partners

Gradually provide opportunities for students to share ideas with multiple partners. Arrange inner/outer circles in which partners face each other in a large classroom circle. Pose a question or prompt worthy of discussion and allow students one to two minutes to talk with their first partner. Then, cue the outer circle to rotate a specific number of spaces to the right or left. Now the student has a new partner to share ideas with, including those ideas generated with the previous partner. Continue the rotating conversations for a few more rounds.

“Tea party,” as described by Kylene Beers in When Kids Can’t Read, What Teachers Can Do, is a less controlled version of sharing thinking with a series of partners. Beers uses it for a pre-reading activity. Give each student a direct quote from an upcoming text. Set the timer for about five minutes. Instruct students to walk around and socialize, as if at a tea party, and network to make connections and draw conclusions about the topic or focus of the featured text.

Step 5: Combine Partnerships

Form small groups of four by joining one paired group with another. Make sure the students have access to the response frames and prompts for support when needed. Always give each group a significant question or task that requires analysis, synthesis, or evaluation to elicit strong discussion. Consider rotating the group spokesperson to hold all members accountable for listening and sharing the big ideas discussed within the group.

Nurturing useful academic discussion takes patience, purpose, and practice. When implemented effectively and consistently, classroom talk benefits all learners as they work together to make sense of new and challenging content.

Use the resources below to identify & apply for funding for PreK–12 programs & services.

1. Tap Social Media/Crowdfunding


How to Increase Your DonorsChoose Results

DonorsChoose Special Request Process

Other Crowdfunding Options

2. Start Small with Private Funders

McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation

Dollar General Literacy Foundation (Application Info)

Dollar General Literacy Foundation Eligibility Req’s

The NEA Foundation Learning & Leadership Grants

3. Resources & Information Are as Valuable as the Grants Themselves


Grants for Teachers


Learning Forward

Philanthropy News Digest

The NEA Foundation Writing Tutorial

The Foundation Center’s Short Course on Proposal Writing

The Foundation Directory

GetEdFunding Resources


Download a PDF of this tip sheet: SDE-Tips-Funding-Bluthardt

Teaching Higher-Order Thinking

Teaching young children how to think at a higher level takes dedication and focus on the part of teachers. Some students can easily and naturally think this way. But others struggle to do so. The good news is that all students can learn this skill with practice.

How can educators best help their students along in this critical skill development? Read on.

Higher-Order Thinking…More Than a Buzz Word

There’s no denying that a lack of higher-order thinking skills can be seen in every subject area:

  • Reading: Students read well, but don’t comprehend what they read.
  • Writing: Student cannot communicate their ideas effectively. They do not understand what they want to say nor do they know how to outline their thoughts logically.
  • Math: Students can work basic operations, but they cannot reason mathematically. They struggle with word problems because they don’t comprehend the problem.
  • Social Studies: Students fail to connect events in history because of poor analysis and reasoning skills.

Children need to be taught how to think, not what to think. But teaching this mindset, especially in the early grades, is challenging. “I am trying, but my kids don’t get it.” This can be heard in almost any classroom, especially from teachers who are feeling the pressure (as we all are) to ask students to do more and more with the facts they are taught. These same teachers tend to feel frustrated because many times the strategies they are using to encourage higher-order thinking aren’t the right strategies.

5 Ways to Develop Thinkers

Teachers can do a lot to help their young students think at a higher level. Here are some tips to get better results with each day of teaching:

Understand what higher-order thinking is and isn’t.
This sounds like a no brainer, but it’s easy to lose sight of what higher-order thinking skills are and look like in day-to-day practice. Higher-order thinking is not memorizing facts. It’s not re-telling something back to someone the way it was told to you. It’s not rattling off multiplication tables or the presidents of the United State. It isn’t simply accepting the facts. It’s doing something with them—such as making inferences, connecting them to other facts, categorizing them, and applying them in new ways.

Be intentional.
Young children don’t automatically understand what higher-order thinking is. Teachers must show them. This calls for intentional, day-in-and-day-out efforts to teach children about higher-order thinking and strategies and help them understand their strengths and weaknesses in this area.

Provide opportunities to think.
Studies show that the more children are exposed to higher-order thinking, the greater the probability they’ll be able to apply those skills to their lives. With some thought, it’s possible to encourage higher-order thinking across the curriculum. It boils down to adopting the appropriate strategies, being persistent, monitoring progress, and staying open-minded and flexible.

Help children see themselves as thinkers by asking questions.
Socrates nailed it—asking questions is a great way to teach thinking skills. Young children are experts at asking questions—we all know that! Rather than automatically answering their endless number of questions, teachers can build on their natural curiosity with responses like these:

  • That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer.
  • How about we Google that to find the answer?
  • Good question—let’s brainstorm some possible answers.
  • That’s interesting. Why do you think that?
  • I am interested in hearing your thinking on that.
  • How would you solve that problem

Of course, children also learn by observing how their teachers solve problems. Be a good role model by addressing daily classroom problems, dilemmas, and uncertainties with curiosity, enthusiasm, and confidence.

Explore in more depth how to up the level of higher-order thinking in your classroom in the SDE webinar Are You a Higher-Order Thinking Teacher? (Gr. 1–3) by experienced classroom teacher Melissa Dickson.