Watch this video to see 'Structured Dialogues' in action...

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The purpose of 'Structured Dialogues'

This is a pair or trio activity which is ideal for reflection and also to practice focused listening. Structured dialogues can work well with teens and adults in a variety of learning contexts or communities.

Contributed by Sherri Spelic.

Activity description

  • Useful for
  • How to do it
  • Duration
  • Adaptations
  • Technical requirements

These conversations work best when  you provide context for doing it first. As in, “Here’s an activity that will give you an opportunity to reflect on our topic with someone here while experiencing uninterrupted listening.”

For each dialogue, give participants a set of prompts. These are statements which typically begin with “Tell me…”  They are not questions. Partners decide who will begin by delivering the prompts first and who will respond. You could describe the process as follows:

“Give your partner each prompt in turn. While he or she is responding, just listen. Please do not interrupt or interject your own thoughts. When she/he is/they are finished, respond with “Thank you” and give him/her/them the next direction. Give all of the prompts, then change roles. Try to repeat the sequence at least 2 times in each direction. When you are responding to a prompt, try to take the first thought that comes to mind, whatever it is, and try to keep your responses brief. Say what is essential, then stop.”

Repeating the process for a second or even third round allows partners to respond to each others’ thinking and potentially deepen and/or their ideas as they go. It may feel weird the first time doing it but the result is often very rewarding.

Once pairs have completed their dialogues, I strongly recommend offering everyone a way (i.e., class discussion, in writing, or voice thread) to reflect on the experience of the structured dialogue (not the content of their responses). Examples: What did you notice during the process? What was interesting? What did you find challenging?

Structured dialogues can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. You can set a time limit and remind partners to make sure that both of them get to respond to the prompts twice.

About 10-12 minutes. The video above models it from start to finish. Additional resources below give you access to the slides and additional prompt ideas you can use to adapt the slides for your own purposes.

Crafting prompts that are more specific to your context is an excellent way to facilitate the reflection among learners.

Having learners propose/write their own prompts might be interesting after having practiced it a couple of times.

Some kind of synchronous tool (even a phone can work for duos).

Additional resources

Here are 2 google slides with instructions, a recorded sample dialogue and possible prompts to choose from.

For the Digital Identity course in Digital Pedagogy Lab I recorded some structured dialogues with friends as touchpoints for discussion. You can find a sample dialogue with Chris Gilliard here.

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[…] with Alan Levine and Sherri Spelic around this Twitter thread, I came up with an idea. To use “structured dialogue” (a technique of Sherri’s) and help students use their imaginations (something Alan tweeted) and ask them to interview each […]

How do I use these resources?

We have created a welcome video and some introductory text that explains in detail how to use these resources. You can also find answers to some key questions below. 

Yes you can. We have included descriptive text and slides that you can reuse / adapt for this reason. We have suggested some variations for activities to help you make adaptations.

We show how much time an activity should take and what resources you need to help you make a decision.

As we include more resources over time you will have a greater choice of activities and more information about the different contexts within which they work best. 

Any technique can block some people out, make them feel unwelcomed, or be used in a way that privileges some and makes it harder on others.

All of these techniques should be used in conjunction with pedagogies of care and what we call Intentionally Equitable Hospitality

If you try an adaptation of this activity, or try it as is and have interesting results to share, please contribute your adaptation/reflection in the comments or get in touch through social media / email.

Coming soon: there will be room to discuss these activities in private discussion forums in OneHE’s.

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