This week I led a “silent discussion” with a class of fourth and fifth grade students. I began by distributing large poster board paper to table groups of 3-4 students, along with various colored Sharpies, one for each student. I explained to the students that they would be listening to a story (in this case “Alone” in Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together) and that most of the rest of the activity would take place in silence, with each student using a pen to to communicate their thoughts and questions to one another on the poster board. I put the following three questions on the board as starting prompts, letting the students know that they could respond to some or all of these and/or to add their own questions:

Are there differences between being alone and feeling lonely? If yes, what are these differences?

Is solitude important?

What does it mean to be “alone together?”

Then the students spent about 20 minutes communicating with one another on the poster boards. There was something especially fitting about having a discussion about loneliness and being alone in silence. Some of the comments they made included:

“Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person lonely.”

“Solitude is important because it can help you understand yourself better.”

“Being alone together is like filling the glass with eater but it still feels empty.”

I think you can have friends and family and still be lonely.”

After this part of the activity, student, still in silence, walked around reading poster boards on the other tables, writing comments or further questions as they wished.

When we came back together to talk about the activity, several of the students commented on the way the silent conversation gave them space to think before they had to communicate and that you could hold on to both your own thoughts and what other people had said because they were all written down, as opposed to a verbal conversation that moves on from one subject to another. One of the students noted that the different colors of all the words on each poster board made her think about how everyone has their own unique perspectives. They also suggested that more class discussions happen in writing and in silence in this way, and that the poster boards could be turned into a kind of class journal.

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