TCI Teaching Strategy: Response Groups

The key to assessing students’ ability to think critically is to carefully scaffold instruction. TCI’s Response Groups teaching strategy has set students up for success at critical thinking for more than thirty years. This strategy helps students grapple with the ambiguities of issues in social studies, recognize the complexity of historical events, and discuss the consequences of public policies.

The Response Groups activities begin by placing students into groups of three and giving them a multiple intelligence prompt—it could be historical information, compelling images, primary sources, musical selections, or a map—to discuss. They might discuss the decision to drop the nuclear bomb in WWII, argue about women’s rights, or hypothesize how various communities around the world have adapted to vegetation zones. The more controversial or enigmatic the questions are that we pose to students, the better the discussion will ensue. Thoughtful questions are the fuel that really fires students’ critical thinking muscles.

After small-group discussions, presenters from each group share findings with the class to stimulate whole-class discussion. Here is where you assess students’ thinking ability. You’ll know if they are using critical thinking skills, such as analyzing competing points of view, considering opposing viewpoints, or placing different opinions along a spectrum by how sophisticated their discussion is. If you’re not hearing the level of thinking you’d like, challenge them by giving them points for groups that repeat another group’s position and then add their own or say something new and thought-provoking that they hadn’t considered. We called these “scored discussions”, and they work amazingly well at raising the tenor of classroom discussion.

To guide a successful Response Groups activity in your classroom, keep these steps in mind:

  1. Create and move students into Response Groups.
  2. Give students resources that inspire critical thinking.
  3. Ask provocative critical thinking questions.
  4. Allow groups time to prepare their responses.
  5. Facilitate a lively class discussion.


See this short video tutorial on the Response Groups.  If you have a TCI subscription for your class, thumb through the table of contents to see which upcoming lessons use this strategy.  If you are new to TCI or our programs, learn more about our award-winning K-12 curriculum here.

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