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Common Student Hang-ups: Silo Speeches

By Dave Stuart Jr.

One surefire way to make pop-up debates and discussions boring is to allow what I call “silo speeches.” Early on in the year, when we’re having our first pop-up debates designed to establish universal participation and public speaking comfort, silo speaking is inevitable.

A silo speech happens when a student pops up, says what they want to say (or what they’ve got written down), and then sits right back down. They don’t respond to what another person has said, they don’t paraphrase, they often repeat other people. When many silo speeches occur in a given pop-up discussion or debate, there’s really not a discussion or debate happening — it’s just a string of isolated speakers. This is a far cry from Fulkersonian work.

After one of those early-in-the-school-year, silo-filled “debates,” I like to ask students to reflect on our class performance, citing things we did well and things we did not. When the kids share these out, I wait for a student to say that we repeated one another an awful lot, and then I give this occurrence a name: “silo speaking.” When we all agree that this makes things a bit boring, we can then resolve as a class to not do it any more.

Before our next pop-up, we’re ready to learn about Paraphrase Plus, which you can read about here. I print the graphic out and have them keep it in their binders. If they are to succeed with this lynchpin set of discussion moves, they’ll need consistent, live feedback during the next few pop-up debates.

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