Sandi Novak

Sandi Novak, a consultant, has more than 35 years of experience in education and has served as an assistant superintendent, principal, and teacher.
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Set the Stage for Student Discussions

Setting the Stage for Student-Led Discussions (Small Groups, Big Discussions Part 6)

Categories: Instruction

This is the sixth post in a series on student-led, small-group discussions. To read the other posts, see “Small Groups, Big Discussions.” The series explores the challenges to effective small-group discussions and how to address them.

As you prepare for a year filled with many opportunities for students to talk, you may reflect on your past experiences and wonder how you might enhance your classroom environment to set students up for successful experiences with student-led discussions. Four things come to mind when I think about the rituals and routines that need to be present for students to engage in meaningful talk. Read more

Keep students on topic

Preventing Off-Topic Discussions (Small Groups, Big Discussions Part 5)

Categories: Instruction

This is the fifth post in a series on student-led, small-group discussions. To read the other posts, see “Small Groups, Big Discussions.” The series explores the challenges to effective small-group discussions and how to address them.

Have you ever listened to a small-group discussion and didn’t recognize the topic? When students first engage in discussions on their own, they sometimes veer off topic and don’t know how to bring the conversation back. This is a common challenge that can be addressed by ensuring discussion-worthy topics are considered, setting appropriate time limits, and offering supports that will help when discussions get sidetracked. Read more

Often, the reading material is to blame when students don't prepare for discussions.

Classroom Discussion Challenge: When Students Don’t Do the Reading

Categories: Instruction

This is the fourth post in a series on student-led, small-group discussions. To read the first post, see “Small Groups, Big Discussions.” The series explores the challenges to effective small-group discussions and how to address them. See all posts under Small Groups, Big Discussions.

When implementing discussion in the classroom, one common problem is that some students may not complete the reading assignment that is the foundation of the discussion. This is particularly detrimental in student-led small groups, where one student’s lack of participation can make a large impact on the group.

Before we intervene, however, we need to consider the contributing factors causing a student to react unfavorably to the reading task or assignment. Read more

Empowering students to contribute equally

Giving Voice to All Students (Small Groups, Big Discussions Part 3)

Categories: Instruction

This is the third post in a series on student-led, small-group discussions. To read the first post, see “Small Groups, Big Discussions.” The series explores the challenges to effective small-group discussions and how to address them. See all posts under Small Groups, Big Discussions.


In the book Deep Discourse: A Framework for Cultivating Student-Led Discussions, my co-author and I provide tools and resources for teachers to engage their students in rich academic talk. When we work with teachers, we often hear about their struggles with specific problems that bog down conversations and frustrate them until they are searching for answers.

A teacher once queried: “When my students discuss in small groups, one student does most of the talking, and others often don’t contribute. What can I do to encourage all students’ participation?” Read more

Facilitating asking questions

Helping Students Ask Questions (Small Groups, Big Discussions Part 2)

Categories: Instruction, School Improvement

This is the second post in a series on student-led, small-group discussions. To read the first post, see “Small Groups, Big Discussions.” The series explores the challenges to effective small-group discussions and how to address them. See all posts under Small Groups, Big Discussions.

To begin the series, I think it is prudent to start with the basics of teaching students to ask thoughtful questions during discussions. The group of students in the following video was struggling to incorporate questions into their conversation, a common issue teachers often address. Read more