Meaningful Talk Part 3: Pinwheel discussion

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

This approach allows the teacher to help guide and support students as they participate in a class discussion


Basic setup


So far in our exploration of ways to get students reading, writing, listening, and speaking about a text in a meaningful way, we have looked at student-led dialogic approaches. Today’s approach depends on more support from the teacher and can be a scaffold for another popular strategy – the fishbowl or Socratic seminar.


The basic premise


Students have been working with multiple texts. These can be from the same genre – say three poems - or different genres - say a short story, novel, and literary nonfiction piece. The students are split up into four groups. Three groups will each take one of the texts and dig deep into it. The teacher may give some general guidance on what they should be looking at. She may not. The fourth group – who you can call the provocateurs – must develop questions to ask their peers about the different texts. Remember: they have all read all the texts.


After a set time, students number off within their groups. It’s time for the pinwheel discussion to begin. All the number ones sit in a circle or pinwheel at the front of the room. The provocateur will start asking each student questions. The teacher is right there with them, helping the provocateur by suggesting questions or ensuring each of the other students answer. The teacher will decide to move on to the next numbered group. The discussion continues like this until all students have had the opportunity to participate in the “pinwheel.”


Example lesson


For today’s pinwheel discussion example lesson, students will be discussing “The Most Dangerous Game” – the text we focused on in the first two lessons, along with two other works that both deal with survival – the novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, which the students have been reading in groups, and an excerpt from Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, a book based on the true story of a young man heading out into the wilderness. We will be using 7th grade TEKS.


Warm-up: Review theme, begin brainstorming what the three texts have in common.


Learning intention: Students will infer multiple themes within and across texts using text evidence.


Success criteria:

  • Discuss in small groups (both assigned and in the pinwheel) differences, similarities, themes etc.

  • Take notes on all discussions to assist in writing assignment, especially necessary text evidence

  • Write an essay inferring the common theme in the three works, with appropriate textual support

Students are divided into four groups. One group will be looking closely at “The Most Dangerous Game,” one Hatchet, and the other the excerpt. The fourth, with some teacher guidance, will develop the questions to ask them. The teacher will guide the provocateurs to ask questions that get students making connections and eventually deal with common themes.




The teacher gives the students time to prepare in their assigned groups.


Then it’s time for the pinwheel. Each group sends a different member to the pinwheel in each round. The teacher scaffolds this discussion by assisting the questioner with appropriate questions and helps to elicit responses from hesitant students. She is in control of the timing and length of the discussion, but gives the students as much control as possible.


When all students have participated, students return to their seats. The teacher explains how this will help them with their essay assignment about theme.


As a checkpoint, the students complete an exit ticket with a rough draft of their thesis for the essay.


This lesson includes the following TEKS:

7.5B - Generate questions about text before, during, and after reading to deepen understanding and gain information.

7.5F - Make inferences and use evidence to support understanding.

7.5G - Evaluate details read to determine key ideas.

7.5H - Synthesize information to create new understanding.

7.6C - Use text evidence to support an appropriate response.

7.6E - Interact with sources in meaningful ways such as notetaking, annotating, freewriting, or illustrating.

7.6G - Discuss and write about the explicit or implicit meanings of text

7.6H - Respond orally or in writing with appropriate register, vocabulary, tone, and voice.

7.7A - Infer multiple themes within and across texts using text evidence.

7.8A - Demonstrate knowledge of literary genres such as realistic fiction, adventure stories, historical fiction, mysteries, humor, myths, fantasy, and science fiction.

7.11B - Compose informational texts, including multi-paragraph essays that convey information about a topic, using a clear controlling idea or thesis statement and genre characteristics and craft.


So what did the students do?

Read: they had to reread part of the texts they had previously read

Write: they had to take notes, as well as write the thesis for their upcoming essay

Listen: they had to listen to the members of their groups, as well as the other groups during the pinwheel

Speak: they had to respond and participate in the multiple discussions

Think: they had to analyze for theme and multiple other elements


Other ideas


This lesson type is a great place for a teacher or more proficient students to model appropriate discussion. The teacher can provide ongoing feedback to students to help them hone their discussion skills.


Stay tuned for more meaningful talk lessons!

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