This Big Paper Strategy Improves Student-centered Learning
Big paper is a learning strategy that encourages students to silently discuss and explore topics through writing. In this collaborative strategy, students are instructed to write their responses on a piece of paper that is passed between group members.
Using the big paper strategy, teachers can help students:
- Critically reflect upon material.
- Gain a deeper understanding of topic as the process of writing can slow down and sharpen students’ thought processes.
- Expand and accommodate perspectives to include other points of view.
- Take turns expressing and listening to opinions, ideas and thoughts so all students can equally contribute to the discussion.
The strategy beneficial as it:
- Promotes student-centered learning as the direction of the discussion is guided through the writings of students.
- Creates a written record of thoughts and questions, which can serve as a reference for later use.
Big Paper Strategy in Practice
The below phases can help teachers implement the big paper strategy in the classroom.
Planning phase: Here are some factors that teachers must plan for:
- Selection of stimulus: Teachers must first decide on the “stimulus” – the content or material that will be discussed by the students. Teachers must decide on:
- Type of stimulus: Teachers can use content from texts, poems, novels, images, historical documents and quotations as stimuli.
- Repetition: Teachers can choose to assign the same stimulus for different student groups or assign each group a different stimulus (different text that explores the same themes) to work on.
- Materials: Each student group can be given a big piece of paper (chart, poster paper) and markers. The markers help to identify the responses of each member of the group. The stimulus is written on the center of the big paper, and students can be instructed to write their comments and thoughts around the central topic.
Silent Discussion Phase: When implementing the activity, teachers can break down the strategy into a silent discussion phase and a verbal discussion phase. During silent discussion, the following points must be noted:
- Discussions must be conducted in silence and only through writing.
- Students will be given time to verbally discuss with their group and rest of the class at a later time.
- Students must wait for their turn to express their thoughts. They can either add their own views to ones which have already been written on the paper or write their own questions to direct discussion.
- The big paper must be passed to the person sitting next to the student in a clockwise direction. This avoids confusion and gives students time to process and prepare their thoughts.
2. Group process: Groups can be given their big paper and can be allotted 10-15 minutes of discussion time. Students can be instructed to read the stimulus and write their responses in silence. While the initial direction of the conversation must be in response to the stimuli, students can be permitted to change the direction based on their comments and questions to encourage deeper analysis and reflection upon the topic. Students must make sure that every question written on the big paper is answered and can use arrows and lines to connect responses.
3. Around the classroom: Students can be given additional 10 minutes to read through other groups’ big papers. This activity is also done in silence and students can be instructed to use their markers to record comments on other groups’ big papers.
Verbal Discussion Phase: Once groups have reassembled at their own stations or tables, student groups can be permitted to break their silence and verbally discuss:
- Each group’s big paper, reading through the group’s responses and those written by other group members.
- A summary of their big paper, which can then be discussed by the class as a whole.
Debrief: At the end of the session teachers can debrief and summarize the learning. A quick closure activity can be administered to find out the effectiveness of the strategy in helping students improve their understanding of the content.
Big paper is a multi-purpose strategy that can be used by teachers to introduce topics, link new information with past knowledge, review and clarify information, and assess knowledge. The strategy promotes student-centered learning by giving students the freedom to maneuver the direction of the silent discussion through their written ideas and comments.
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February 2021 Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
About the Author
Ellen Paxton is a respected expert in education and best known as the Chief Learning Officer of Professional Learning Board. As a two-time National Board Certified Teacher, Ellen has successfully published and customized online professional development courses and Learning Management Systems for 20 years to help teachers meet their state continuing education renewal credit requirements. Through ProfessionalLearningBoard.com, RenewaTeachingLicense.com, and ConnectedPD.com, Ellen has established solutions and maintained partnerships with several accredited universities, higher education institutions, teachers’ unions and state Departments of Education while setting strategic direction that makes a difference and overseeing implementation of popular online PD for schools.