Silent Conversing is a useful method for creating debate and discussion in the classroom without also creating argument and chaos. Unlike many of the other techniques discussed in the Resource Index, Silent Conversing works best after the reading assignment or research project has been completed. This is because Silent Conversing relies on students to make an informed opinion about a given prompt that is either from or closely related to the reading the students have just completed. The given prompts in this method take the form of solitary quotes on the top of a piece of paper. These quotes should express a clear and concise opinion on a subject or topic, and not merely state a basic, unarguable fact. For an example, I have used a quote from Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond:
“It seems logical to suppose that history’s pattern reflects innate differences among people themselves. Of course, we’re taught that it’s not polite to say so in public. We read of technical studies claiming to demonstrate inborn differences, and we also read rebuttals claiming that those studies suffer from technical flaws. We see in our daily lives that some of the conquered peoples continue to form an underclass, centuries after the conquests or slave imports took place. We’re told that this too is to be attributed not to any biological shortcomings but to social disadvantages and limited opportunities” (Diamond 25).
This quote works well as a prompt for Silent Conversing because it discusses some controversial issues and touches at some deeper themes from the reading. An instructor can give each student a different prompt or an identical one, but each student starts the exercise holding a piece of paper with only one quote printed on it. Each student then writes a brief response to the prompt they are given, right below the prompt on that same sheet of paper. Students can agree, disagree, or simply summarize the points that they think the author of the prompt is trying to make. Then they pass that paper to the left. The student to the left then has the choice to either also respond to the prompt or to reply to the response of the original student, indicating their decision with a directive arrow. After the second student is done, they pass that paper to the left, and the cycle repeats until the given time limit is reached (anywhere from five to 20 minutes). At no time is the student required to sign his or her response, as anonymity of reflection is a large part of what makes this exercise work. After the time limit is reached, the prompts are returned to the students that they start with, and now the seeds of an informed, energized, and grounded discussion have been planted. As an instructor, be sure to monitor emotional safety in this exercise, for while anonymity is freeing when it comes to thought and reflection, it can also be seen as authorization to write harshly and critically. For an example of this, please see The Internet.