Yvonne Divans-Hutchinson

King/Drew Magnet High School

of Medicine and Science



Promoting Literate Discourse in the Classroom


To ensure that everyone, especially the most reticent student, speaks up in class, I require at least a one-sentence reply whenever someone is called upon in class discussion. The ground rule is that everyone must speak , if only to demur. And if a peer calls on another, the student must respond with a cogent answer. S/he cannot demur.  The students learn stock responses so that everyone develops the habit of engaging in discourse. During discussion, which is usually open-ended, students are encouraged to express their ideas, thoughts, and opinions, and to justify them with evidence and logical reasoning. Students who are bereft of ideas momentarily may resort to the stock responses that appear below.  Since we understand that everyone needs varying lengths of time to think,  members of the class will sit quietly and wait for a response from their more reticent classmates.  They might even coach him/her to make the appropriate response.


Stock Responses


You don't know the answer: I don't know, but I will try to find out the answer and get back to you.


You are confused: I don't know.


You haven't done the homework or are unprepared: I regret to say that I am not prepared.


You were not paying attention: I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention.


You wish the question repeated for clarification: Would you please repeat (or restate) the question?


The discussion is of a personal nature, and you do not wish to participate.

I do not wish to share this time, but I will be happy to share the next time (Note: the class usually holds the student to this promise).


You are having difficulty coming up with an answer.  Please come back to me; I'm still thinking.


You disagree with someone else's response or you feel s/he has given an incorrect answer. I respectfully disagree. I think…. I feel… or : I have a different opinion. I think…(Give your opposing idea and justify it )


You agree, but want to add to what was said or extend the idea in someone way. I agree with (person's name). I feel…think….My idea is similar in that…I want to add to what (person's name) said…


Final Stipulation

We agree early on that peer pressure is a most powerful form of persuasion among teenagers; therefore when a peer calls upon a classmate, s/he cannot demur; a cogent response must be given.


Toward that end, I have devised a system that enables students to call on each other. I employ this system whenever I am having difficulty getting voluntary discussion or when I want to make sure everyone participates in the discussion. I call on the first person. Subsequently that student calls on someone who is different from him/her (or who appears to be) in race, ethnicity, gender, and who is not part of the student's close circle of friends outside of the classroom.