Teaching Idea

Meeting the Common Core State Standards with Discussion Webs

Barbara Moss

For teachers, one of the biggest challenges today is meeting the demands of the new Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Two major changes associated with the new standards are (1) the increased use of informational texts across the grade levels, beginning with 50% of the school day in K-5 and increasing thereafter and (2) the requirement for students to justify their answers to questions with evidence from the text. Discussion webs (Alvermann, 1991) are graphic organizers that can help you use informational text with your students. While they can be used with narrative texts, discussion webs are particularly useful with various text types, including persuasive and informational texts, newspaper articles, and more.

 A discussion web can help your students, regardless of age, to think critically about what they have read. This organizer presents students with a key question to consider, along with spaces where they can record evidence supporting the "yes" column, indicating agreement with the key question, or the "no" column, indicating disagreement with the key question (see Figure 1). Discussion webs require students to provide textual evidence to justify their responses recorded on the graphic organizer.

Advantages of Discussion Webs

Discussion webs have the potential to

  • engage students in evaluating evidence and drawing their own conclusions about a particular topic,
  • help students see that there are multiple ways to view a particular idea (an important aspect of critical literacy), and
  • require that students support their own viewpoint about an issue, as well as note support for the opposing point of view.

Steps for Implementing a Discussion Web

Like all good lessons, those involving a discussion web involve gradually releasing students from teacher instruction to work independently on this graphic organizer. The following steps can be used to guide students through the strategy:

  1. Engage students in prereading activities related to an informational text.
  2. Show students the graphic organizer with the central question and explain the format of the organizer (see Figure 1). Point out the two columns, one on the right side of the question and one on the left. The left-hand column is the "no" column, where students list reasons for disagreeing with the central question. The right hand column is the "yes" column. In this column students record their reasons for agreeing with the central question.
  3. Read aloud the beginning of the text, thinking aloud about how you are considering the central question and choosing evidence from the text that supports or refutes it. When I do this, I also model how I record my ideas: using a blue sticky note if the idea supports the central question and a pink sticky note if the idea refutes it.
  4. Have students do a first reading of the text, either individually or in pairs.
  5. Have students reread the text as pairs, using sticky notes to identify three reasons they agree with the central question and three reasons they disagree. They can then put these sticky notes on the graphic organizer.
  6. Ask students to form groups of four. Each student presents to the rest of the group at least one reason supporting and one reason opposing the question. This ensures that each student participates. The four students in the group compare their discussion webs and reach a group conclusion about whether they agree or disagree with the central question. Dissenters may develop a minority report.
  7. Have each group present its single best conclusion to the class, along with any dissenting opinions. Conclude by opening the discussion to the entire class.

Example of a Class Activity

Sixth grade teacher Jamie Nelson was interested in helping his students develop critical literacy skills by engaging them in considering multiple points of view on a topic and citing evidence to support their views. His lesson focused on Common Core Standard RI6.1: Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

To introduce students to this standard, Jamie engaged them in reading about a topic of current interest in view of the killing of a Florida Sea World trainer by an Orca whale. He introduced the students to an online news article titled Close Encounters with Marine Mammals: At What Price (http://matadornetwork.com/change/close-encounters-with-marine-mammals-at-what-price). This article presents the pros and cons of keeping marine mammals captive.

Prior to reading, Jamie briefly discussed the incident in Florida, asking students to think about why the tragedy might have happened. He then explained that the article explores both sides of the debate around the question of whether or not marine mammals should be kept captive. Jamie then filled in the center of the discussion web with the question "Is it right to keep marine mammals captive?" He asked students to think about this question as they read the article.

Jamie introduced the discussion web strategy with an overhead, showing students how the web organizer gives them places to write a central question and list reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with it. He explained that they should be able to identify and record at least three reasons for answering "yes" to the central question and three reasons for answering "no." He instructed them to use sticky notes to write down reasons for and against the central question that they found in the article.

After reading the article, he had students complete their webs in teams. An example of a completed organizer is shown below. After the webs were completed, each group reported to the larger group on the reasons they had listed on both sides of the chart. A lively discussion ensued, with students arguing for their positions. Finally students reached a consensus about their thoughts resulting from the online reading experience.

Figure 1. Sample Discussion Web

Discussion webs can be powerful tools for helping teachers address the demands of the new Common Core. Why not give them a try?

Dr. Barbara Moss is a professor of literacy education at San Diego State University. She has been an English language arts teacher at the middle and high school levels, as well as a reading specialist. Her research interests relate to teaching informational texts to students of all ages and ability levels.

References

Benson, S. (2010). Close encounters with marine mammals: At what price? Retrieved January 26, 2013 from (http://matadornetwork.com/change/close-encounters-with-marine-mammals-at-what-price).

Alvermann, D. (1991). The discussion web: A graphic aid to learning across the curriculum. The Reading Teacher, 45, 92-99.