Silent Debate

This discussion strategy uses writing and silence as tools to help students explore a topic in depth. In a silent debate discussion, students write out their responses to a stimulus, such as a question, a prompt, a quotation. This process slows down students’ thinking and gives them an opportunity to focus on the views of others. It also creates a visual record of students’ thoughts and questions that you can refer to later during a subsequent lesson. This strategy engages students who are not as likely to participate in a verbal discussion and helps make sure all students listen carefully to the ideas of their classmates. (Adapted from the website, Facing History and Ourselves: Big Paper: Building a Silent Conversation)


  1. Select the “stimulus” or prompt to which students will respond. The stimulus could be a provocative question, a text or visuals from the theme of the unit.

  2. Introduce the silent conversation by first modeling the procedure for students using a think-aloud, next by modeling with a strong student, and finally by asking 2 or three students to carry out the task as the teacher guides the process.

  3. Distribute a large paper with the “stimulus” or prompt written in the center to each pair of students. Provide a different colored pencil or marker for each student.

  4. Be certain that students understand that the conversation will be carried out in silence.

  5. After students have had time to read the prompt or study the visual, they comment on the prompt and ask questions of one another by writing and sharing the paper back and forth. The entire conversation takes place on the paper. Students are encouraged to draw lines connecting a comment to a particular question. 

  6. Finally, the teacher conducts a debriefing session asking students to consider what they learned from the activity and using the responses to prompt deeper thinking on the theme.

Adaptation for Online/Distance Learning

  1. The teacher places students into breakout rooms in pairs or small groups. Each breakout room has a google doc that has been divided into sections according to the number of students in the group. The prompt or visual is on the Google Doc for easy reference. Students are given a certain amount of time to write silently as outlined above. 

  2. Students return to the main room and are given time to read the Google Docs from other groups. This can be done in a synchronous or asynchronous setting. They are then assigned to the same breakout room and are given time to add additional information or follow-up questions to their original document. 

  3. Students return from the breakout rooms. The teacher places students into different groups and gives a limited amount of time for students to discuss based on what they've written and read from different groups. 

  4. The students return from the breakout rooms. The teacher calls on non-volunteers to share. 

  5. For individual accountability: Students are asked to complete an individual (2)-minute quick write on the topic and must submit their writing. 

Helpful Tips

  1. Be sure that the prompt or question is open-ended so that it spurs thinking and conversation among the students.

  2. Make a large sign in the target language reminding students that the debate is silent.


  1. The teacher might provide sentence frames, question starters, and a thematic word wall section as scaffolds for students who need additional support.

  2. Students who are at the novice proficiency level can carry out the silent conversation at the word and phrase level.

  3. Once each pair has completed their silent conversation, they circulate to read and comment on their classmates’ work. During this phase, they can write comments, ask questions and thoughts on their classmates’ papers.

  4. After 10 minutes, one student from each group travels silently around the room visiting other groups and is allowed to "steal" ideas to then bring back and add into their own "debate".


  1. Large paper or large poster-size sticky notes (or a technology alternative like Google Docs)

  2. A “stimulus” or prompt such as a question, quotation, except from a text, authentic visual from the target culture Different colored pencils or markers for each person in a conversation group