What’s the Big Idea?

What’s the Big Idea?

By Holly Hermstedt
Education Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Personally, I love reading research in my field.  I enjoy knowing what’s new and what’s working best, and digging into a journal article is fun for me.

For my students?  Not so much.

I know, surely you are shocked, but most of my students really are not terribly excited about delving into research–and they are not always eager to discuss the research, or what it means, or what the implications will be for them in the field.

Yes, it IS important that they continue to read and work with professional journal articles, and we do have that built into the course as part of the required assignments.  But I decided that there had to be additional ways to get them engaged in the research and enable them to walk away understanding the most important points.

But how?  Enter a new strategy called, What’s the Big Idea?  (also known as What the Experts Say).  This is an instructional strategy I have been incorporating into my classes this semester, and each time it has worked well.  The students have an opportunity to move around and engage in discussion, and they walk away knowing the big ideas.

How does What’s the Big Idea work?

Prior to class, you choose a topic and decide on a number of big ideas that you need your students to grasp about that topic (I’ll usually choose four big ideas).

Next, you need to identify a few different quotes or statements that speak to each of the big ideas without giving the big ideas away (For me, I found four related quotes for each big idea.)  Type up the quotes so that each page of your document contains all of the quotes for one big idea. So, if you are going with four big ideas like me, you’ll make four separate pages.

Once you’ve got your quotes typed up, you’ll print them out on colored paper. Each page should be a different color. I made one page green, one yellow, one blue, and one pink.

Finally, cut your paper so that each of the quotes is on its own slip of paper.  Mix the colors up.

Instructions for the Class

Once you’re ready to run the activity in class, give each student a quote.  (Since I have sixteen students and sixteen quotes, each student will have one quote.  I can always give some students more than one quote or create more quotes for a larger class.)

Have students work individually to read the quote they were given, and allow two or three minutes for students to reflect on what the quote is saying.  (This can be think time or you can have students jot down their ideas with a quick write.)

Now, have students get up and group themselves according to the color of their papers.  I have the groups meet at the white boards in the room or at poster paper I have hung around the room.  In their groups, they will read their quotes to each other and share what they think the quote is saying.  Once every member has shared his or her quote, they will discuss what the quotes have in common.

The students then need to formulate a “Big Idea” that comes from their discussion. What can they take away from these quotes?  When you put these quotes all together, what’s the message?  Circulate as students are talking, and if any group needs a nudge in the right direction you can ask a well-placed question, draw attention to something in the quotes, etc.  When students have determined their Big Idea, have each group write it on the white board or poster paper.

Finally, have each group share their Big Idea with the class.  In sharing, they can elaborate a little and others can ask questions.  You can also ask the whole group to think about and discuss what implications the Big Idea has for them in the field.  How will this affect them?  What does this mean in practice?

This strategy enabled me to get my students talking, thinking, and moving–and the test results show that the information stuck!

So, that’s the Big Idea!

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