Students are given a subject, reading, or question. Students are then divided into small groups. Ideally groups of 4 (although it can be more depending on the class size). Each group takes one piece of paper and divides it into five sections: 1 larger middle section and 4 smaller sections that surround it.
This is the template for the placemat. Each student takes their turn filling in their section of the placemat and discussing their ideas, what they took from the reading, etc. After the students have discussed individually then they fill the middle section with shared ideas and common themes. This middle section will be used for the larger group discussion.
The placemat form of sharing and discussion works as a strong framework to engage students in small group discussion before breaking out into larger group discussions. The template allows each student to express individually as well as benefit from the small group discussion. This allows students to synthesize and discuss while learning from their before engaging in whole group discussions. The small group discussion allows students to clarify and polish their thoughts and opinions in a less intimidating (safer?) environment before sharing with the whole class.
- Each group of students can respond to smaller sections of the reading and then the class can create a giant group placemat to deal with the subject as a whole.