As the students enter the room, they take out their journals and answer the following prompt: What are cells? Are they important? Why or why not?
While the students work on their journals, I circulate through the room examining student responses. As in this journal entry, many of the students write that cells are the building blocks of life but do not go into much detail. I ask the students to share their responses to the prompt. I listen to their responses, but do not ask many probing questions because this will happen during the whole group discussion.
After reviewing the journals, I tell the students we will be focusing a bit more intently on cells and genetics through a whole group discussion. We move the desks into a circle and I hand out the discussion guide worksheet. Since this is the first group exploratory discussion of the school year, I explain that the discussion is a way for me to understand what they remember about cells from their previous science classes. I tell the students that I expect them to view models and complete their discussion worksheets. I explain that the discussion worksheet will help them prepare to interact with one another during the whole class discussion and that they may speak about the topic quietly with their neighbor to their left or their right. I then inform the students that after they have had a chance to collect their thoughts, we will discuss their ideas as a class.
As the students work on their discussion guide, I pass around animal cell models for the students to reference. The models are not labeled, though various organelles are present. I allow the students to work with a partner sitting next to them as a way to encourage discussion and to help them feel more comfortable participating in the upcoming whole group discussion. I have the students write their thoughts on the discussion worksheet prior to the discussion as a means through which to help them process their thoughts and to have written information to refer back to during the discussion.
When most of the students have completed the discussion guide, we prepare for our whole class discussion. We review proper listening techniques and make a list of question stems that can be used to create dialogue. Sample question stems include "What do you mean by... Can you provide evidence/an example? How do you know?"
We then begin the discussion. During this time, I listen and ask probing questions, but I refrain from answering questions, instead I choose to direct the questions back to the students. I do write down student questions and make sure they are addressed throughout the unit. During the discussion, I use the questions on the discussion guide to direct the flow of the conversation.
This initial discussion reveals the students' misconceptions, but it also helps the students begin to solidify definitions and examples of cells and cell structures (NGSS MS-LS1-2). Discussing their ideas with others in a respectful environment also addresses (SL.8.6).
At the end of the discussion, the students begin working on highlighting the cells unit information sheet using red, yellow, or green to denote their understanding of the key words involved in the unit. This is a technique that we use in each unit and I have posted video instructions for completing this task on our Learning Management System, Google Classroom. I place the students' homework assignments, tutorial videos, and flipped notes on Google Classroom, so students can easily access class information outside of school.