How Lessons Work

Read what teachers are saying about using Discussions4Learning with their students.

Each oral vocabulary lesson in Discussions4Learning offers a lively, content-rich student discussion that expands high-level student vocabulary and improves comprehension. The program’s academic vocabulary words are explicitly repeated and reintroduced throughout subsequent lessons.

Designed to be whole-group experiences, these lessons provide ample opportunities for all students—from English Language Learners to linguistically advanced students—to participate and be challenged.

See how a lesson works.

Learn how to implement the program.

Lessons can be taught:

  • In 2 to 4 days per week, 15–20 minutes per day
  • Without significant teacher preparation or planning—all lessons are carefully scripted
  • Using digitally projected images (provided)

How each lesson works

These scripted lessons provide a “pick up and teach” program that requires no significant teacher preparation, and ensures that each new word is introduced in a meaningful context and repeated in subsequent lessons.

Implementing the Program

Discussions4Learning is designed to be used for 20 minutes a day, four days a week, for 24 weeks. It can easily be adapted to include three 20-minute lessons each week for 32 weeks.

Each level of Discussions4Learning is organized around four cross-curricular themes. These themes capitalize on students’ curiosity about the world around them, and allow teachers to make connections to core curriculum content in language arts, math, and science. The program themes are:

  • Theme 1 (Weeks 1–6): Things We See and Use
  • Theme 2 (Weeks 7–12): Our Living World
  • Theme 3 (Weeks 13–18): Places and Spaces
  • Theme 4 (Weeks 19–24): Our Changing World


This flexible program is designed to meet your individual school and classroom needs.
The program is designed to be used for 24 weeks, with four 20-minute lessons a week. It can easily be used for 32 weeks, with three 20-minute lessons a week.

Fitting Discussions4Learning into a Busy Day

We know that scheduling for a busy classroom day can be a real challenge. Yet research indicates that setting aside just twenty minutes a day for explicit practice in oral vocabulary, just three or four days a week, can make a significant difference in overall student vocabulary, and in comprehension of both fiction and nonfiction texts. We’ve provided some suggestions below for ways to incorporate Discussions4Learning into your busy day:

  1. Use during story time, alternating with a story two days a week and Discussions4Learning three days a week.
  2. Use as a whole-group activity during discussion time at the beginning of the day.
    The fast-paced oral language approach and focused discussions are a perfect way for students to begin their day with unique opportunities to observe, speak, listen, and discover.
  3. Use as a bridge from one subject area or activity to another. The program’s rich cross-curricular images can easily be linked to a variety of content. In addition, the whole-group lessons and fast pace can help to focus students’ energy and get them engaged, energized, and focused just after returning from lunch or transitioning to or from music, art, or physical education.

Whole Group

Discussions4Learning is designed to be a whole-group program. The questions are multi-tiered, so that you can provide adequate support and challenge for all of your learners—from your most linguistically at-risk to your most advanced. The wealth of fast-paced Every Pupil Response questions ensures that your most at-risk students can participate and learn, even if they begin by copying the answers of more proficient students. In addition, the focus on academically productive talk provides linguistic challenges for your more advanced students. Open-ended guided discussions challenge students to use evidence in each image to formulate and support an opinion. The fast pace of each lesson means that there is no need to tailor separate lessons or approaches for different levels of learners. There are plenty of opportunities to ensure that no student is lost, while keeping all students on their toes and challenged.

Meeting Individual Needs

Support for English Language Learners
Discussions4Learning enables English Language Learners at all proficiency levels to develop the key academic language skills they will need to deal with the linguistic demands of complex subject matter and challenging texts.

Particularly relevant features for English language learners:

  • The discussion of dazzling fine art images and stunning real-world photos provides a unique, authentic, and engaging context for academic language development.
  • Discussions move from the more here and now to the more decontextualized and inferential in nature.
  • Academically Productive Talk strategies support all learners, including second language speakers, by offering non-threatening ways to participate in discussions, such as restating what another student has said, asking for clarification, providing a different example, or agreeing or disagreeing with another student with a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down gesture.
    • All new vocabulary words are presented using specially designed context sentences that spiral in syntactical complexity and provide ample clues to help students unlock word meanings.
  • Careful language scaffolding of new vocabulary and concepts ensures understanding and promotes the use of independent word learning strategies.
  • Built-in review of target words provides multiple opportunities for learning and internalizing new vocabulary.
  • Since the program emphasis is on oral language rather than connections to print, there is “no floor or ceiling” in terms of requisite decoding or writing abilities. In this way, all students, regardless of language proficiency level, are able to fully participate.
  • For Spanish-speaking English learners in Bilingual Programs, VocabulArte builds on students’ home language capabilities and knowledge to develop academic language skills that readily transfer to English. This is particularly the case when teachers use both VocabulArte and Discussions4Learning.

Support for Linguistically Advanced Students
Discussions4Learning was developed on the premise that all students need to be challenged and can profit from focusing on sophisticated, advanced vocabulary that will help them comprehend more challenging texts and to become more proficient writers. Discussions4Learning meets the needs of these students in several ways:

  • Guided discussions provide unique opportunities for advanced students to utilize new vocabulary and to hone their language skills. Each lesson includes one or two guided discussions that are open-ended opportunities for students to apply previously learned vocabulary and concepts to the discussions of each new image. These guided discussions encourage students to think critically and to listen to each other. This means that your most advanced students will learn to give careful thought to their responses, because they will need to offer some evidence to support what they say, rather than simply raising their hands and offering an opinion.
  • Vocabulary tips in the sidebars provide teachers with engaging extension activities, including examining word parts such as prefixes, suffixes, and root words. The vocabulary tips in the sidebars can be used with all students. They are ideal for extending the lessons for those advanced students who require continuing challenges above and beyond the basic curriculum.
  • Engaging cross-curricular content promotes higher-order thinking skills. The fine art images and real-world photos expose all students to a variety of engaging content and concepts. Teachers (and students) will notice many ways they can connect each image to science, social studies, math, history, and other subjects. These natural opportunities for extending learning allow your most advanced students to demonstrate meaningful connections across the curriculum.
  • Regular opportunities to compare and contrast images also promote higher-order thinking skills.
  • Each fine art image is paired with a real-world photo. This pairing allows students to compare and contrast concepts they learn while viewing one image to new concepts in the second image.