Social Interactions Around and About Text

Provide opportunities for social interaction and authentic discussion


Learning is an inherently social activity. Opportunities for interacting socially through authentic discussions of text support reading comprehension and motivation; students are encouraged to apply personal experiences, opinions, and knowledge to their analyses of text. As part of these discussions and analyses, students learn how to provide evidence from the text and take into account the perspectives and interpretations of others.

How you can have social interaction and authentic discussion

Provide students with a library of high interest stories that provide the foundation for student discussion and analysis. Students can compare stories they have read and informally recommend texts to classmates.

Teaching tips
  1. Provide examples of high quality discussions either through modeling or examples found on the Internet on websites such as Voicethread or Google docs. Focus on the characteristics of comments and replies that propel a discussion forward (e.g., “Builds on a previous comment,” “Gives a specific reason to explain a point,” “Respectfully disagrees with another comment,” etc.). Consider facilitating student-created guidelines for being effective discussants about reading materials and post these guidelines in the classroom for easy reference.
  2. Consider assigning a story to all of the students so they can have a class discussion about the issues presented in the story. Ask students ahead of time for ideas about what constitutes high quality discussions. Help students be explicit in their suggestions, and then set a related goal for discussions during that reading session so that students can practice applying what they’ve learned (e.g., “Be sure to explain your opinion with evidence from the text in your discussion today!”).
  3. Non-examples can also be helpful! Provide an example of a discussion about a story that is not exemplary. Many of these are available on the Internet. Ask students to explain what is missing from the example. How would they improve the example?
  4. Create mini “story clubs” (like book clubs) where students can work in pairs or small groups based on similar topic areas of interest. They can have discussions about their opinions, providing evidence for their thinking.
Lesson: Let's Discuss (Relates to all of the teaching tips)

To establish expectations on how to conduct respectful and meaningful authentic discussions with peers. By the end of this lesson, students will be able to ask thoughtful open-ended questions, describe how to share opinions, cite supporting text, share thoughts and ideas about what they have read, and challenge other people’s positions respectfully.


Good discussions are those that provide students with opportunities to express their own interests and share experiences related to the topic and their lives, to express their opinions and interpretations of the text, to cite the text to support their position, and to have those positions challenged. Support your students’ discussions by setting expectations for effective and appropriate discussion together as a class and modeling these expectations.

  1. Introduction: Tell students that they will learn to post information about what they have read on the Internet for others to read and discuss. They will be authors and others will be able to access their thoughts about what they read. Show them other sites where people engage in discussion around a topic, such as The New York Times website and social media sites. (For a specific example, see Be sure to select examples where teens are having reciprocal conversations and invite students to identify why they are good examples (i.e., supporting evidence, respectful tone).
  2. Model: After showing students some examples of good discussions, select a controversial text, one that presents an issue that your students might disagree with one another on (e.g., Do Athletes Deserve Millions?
  3. Explain that you will read the story together and then post comments to share with others who will respond to their comments. Read the story out loud and ask students to follow along while you read.
  4. Guided Practice: Split students into groups or three or four,. They can use Internet sites such as VoiceThread or Google Docs, or they can use paper and pencil for this activity. Give students time to think, then ask them to write or draw what they might contribute to the discussion based on their reaction to the story and the evidence included in the story. Next, ask students to share their responses aloud.
  5. Discuss: What is difficult about responding? How do you feel about sharing your opinion? What does it feel like when your opinion is respected?
  6. Extend skills: Point out that discussion threads are a good way to share your interests, defend your positions and opinions about topics, and to tell others what you know about a topic. Continue to practice these skills together by facilitating discussions of several stories with the whole class offline. Highlight strong student responses and always encourage students to include evidence from the text. Throughout the year, print and display discussions from the Internet that demonstrate the class guidelines and qualities of a good discussion. Repeat this lesson with new examples generated by the class.
Lesson: Let's Debate It! (Relates to teaching tips 1 and 2)

To develop comprehension skills that support the formulation of opinions and arguments in the form of debates.


Debating requires identifying and using evidence to support an opinion about an issue. In this lesson, guide students through working with this particular form of discourse, and extend their skill set by supporting a related oral discussion or debate. Through continued monitoring and scaffolding of debates and related discussions, students have the opportunity to develop text-based comprehension skills focused on identifying evidence to support opinions and arguments.

  1. Preparation: Select a story on a debatable, but not highly controversial topic. (A good example is Should Students be Paid to do Well in School? Create a prompt that encourages students to give their opinion on the topic (or use the model questions provided at the end of the story).
  2. Introduction: Ask students to read the story and think about their opinions on the topic. Model your thinking, explain the difference between your opinion and the supporting evidence (pro and con) found in the text. Show students how you used the evidence to support your opinion.
  3. Guided practice: Ask students to capture their opinion on a piece of paper. They can write or draw their response. Encourage them to build a strong case for their argument by being explicit about the evidence in the text that supports their thinking. Have students share their discussions in pairs or small groups. Each student should be ready to share his/her opinion and at least one piece of evidence from the text that supports his/her opinion.
  4. Independent practice: Give students a choice of three stories to read. Ask each student to read the story of their choice and to express their opinion using at least one piece of evidence from the text. Have students share their responses with other students who read the same story. Ask them to respond directly to arguments presented by other students (instead of just giving their own opinion) and remind them to be respectful of opinions that differ from their own.
  5. Guided/independent practice: Now that students have had some practice in respectful debate, move the debate to the full class. Once students move on to more controversial topics, be sure to continually monitor the conversation. Make sure students are thoughtful and respectful in their responses.

Johannessen, L. R. (2003). Strategies for initiating authentic discussion. English Journal, 73-79

Kamil, M. L., Borman, G. D., Dole, J. Kral, C. C., Salinger, T., & Torgesen, J. (2008). Improving adolescent literacy: Effective classroom and intervention practices: A practice guide (NCEE #2008-4027). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

Larson, L. C. (2009), Reader Response Meets New Literacies: Empowering Readers in Online Learning Communities. The Reading Teacher, 62: 638–648

Leu, D. J., Gregory McVerry, J., Ian O’Byrne, W., Kiili, C., Zawilinski, L., Everett‐Cacopardo, H., … & Forzani, E. (2011). The new literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(1), 5-14.

Murphy, P. K., Wilkinson, I. A., Soter, A. O., Hennessey, M. N., & Alexander, J. F. (2009). Examining the effects of classroom discussion on students’ comprehension of text: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology,101(3), 740. Retrieved June 2, 2014

Ruzich, C., & Canan, J. (2010). Computers, coffee shops, and classrooms: Promoting partnerships and fostering authentic discussion. English Journal, 61-66.

Snow, C. & O’Connor, C. (2013). Close Reading and Far-Reaching Classroom Discussion: Fostering a Vital Connection: A Policy Brief from the Literacy Research Panel of the International Reading Association. Retrieved June 2, 2014 from

Common core standards

Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.