Thirsty for Strong Instructional Practice?
Do you ever assign your students articles or book chapters to read prior to class, expecting or perhaps hoping for an engaging conversation, only to end up sounding like the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? ….. “Anyone?….Anyone?”
It can be disheartening and even infuriating when students do not read the required material prior to class. As the instructor, you have to put forth at least twice as much effort to engage students when they come to class clueless about that day’s lecture. So what to do when students come to class unprepared? The Snowball.
Take a SIP of this: The Snowball
Snowballing (or pyramiding, another term that is used) involves participants working first alone, then in pairs, then in groups of four, and then in groups of eight.
Snowball Discussion Instructions:
ON YOUR OWN
Take a few minutes to find one sentence from the reading that struck you in some way. It might be something you agreed or disagreed with, something you had questions about, or something you connected with. Write it down, with the page number.
In turns, share your sentence with your partner. Explain why you chose it. Each person should speak for 60 seconds without interruption. Then, the other person can ask questions.
When each person has shared their sentence, continue discussing the articles, either working from what you already talked about, or talking about other issues raised in the articles.
Together write down the main idea of the article. What is the big idea that the author is trying to get across?
GROUPS OF FOUR
Two pairs of students join to form a group of four. One person from the first pair summarizes their discussion by speaking for 30 to 60 seconds. The students from the other pair can then ask any questions they have. Repeat this process for the second pair. Continue with a general discussion.
Three possible tasks for the group of four:
- Write a question to ask another group of four. This should be based on the issues you have been discussing.
- Decide on a short phrase that summarizes your shared understanding of the article (no more than five words). Write this on a large post-it note and put it on the board.
- Pick a speaker who will share one idea from the chapter that your group finds interesting.
GROUPS OF EIGHT (after task A in groups of four)
The procedure from the group of four is repeated with the larger group of eight.
After the discussion, as a whole group, pick one word to write on the provided paper. What single world summarizes your discussion of these articles?
If someone said, “What did you learn in class today?” What would you say? Write down a word or phrase that reflects your understanding of today’s discussion.
The Snowball technique can be used for a variety of topics and/or tasks. It does not simply need to be used to encourage students to review material for class lectures.
This technique fosters the involvement of students and helps develop their capacity to put forward their own ideas. Not only do students learn to participate but also to become aware that their ideas are part of the whole effort of a group. It is a way to expand the variety of perceptions: every time the group expands, a new idea is evaluated, improving the quality of the overall discussion.
These directions were adapted from:
Davis, C. (2011, March). Using snowball discussion. Paper presented at Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching, Lilly West: International Alliance of Teacher Scholars, Pomona, CA. (March 2011).
Still thirsty: Take another SIP of The Snowball