Socratic Seminars, or something similar, are pretty much a staple of the school I work in.  I really like them for their ability to get kids talking about a text and for pushing them to think deeply about information.  However, in my always ongoing search for awesome stuff to try, I stumbled across a modified version of this called the B.R.A.W.L. (Battle Royale All Will Learn).  The original creator (David Theriault) wrote about his vision here.

Fascinated by this idea, I did some more research and found some information about how another teacher structured her BRAWLs (see here). So, I borrowed a little here and there to create a version of the BRAWL.  Here’s what happened.

Day 1 – Pre-BRAWL Prep

My students entered my room, curious about this strange thing I had hinted about.  Anything that hints of a fight has to be good, right?  Once everyone got seated, I started explaining the BRAWL to students, about the basic concept and procedures (they seemed most excited by the idea that random students would be chosen as the first round tributes).  Then I handed out the SCOUT sheets (another brilliant find from Mr. Theriault) that I have used to get my students to analyze the story as we read.  (My version and Mr. Theriault’s original.)

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I used Class Dojo to randomly break my students into six groups based on the 5 SCOUT categories and an additional T3 category (this was hysterical as I each random student popped up and was added to the next group on the list). Then I shared a link to a Google Doc (this is my original – I actually create a copy of this for each novel so I always have a fresh one) and instructed students to begin creating questions for the BRAWL.  I reminded them that they should be HOT questions (Higher Order Thinking) questions, without yes/no answers. I also reminded them that the questions should focus on important ideas and concepts, not impossible or ridiculous questions (like what color was Alfred’s shirt on Wednesday).  Then I set them free to work.

Day 2 (and Day 3) – Pre-BRAWL Prep

Early in the morning I arrived and copied all the great questions from each category onto a new Google Doc.  (This is their original list of questions and here is the new Google Doc with the final list of questions.) Each group was awarded 10 points for each question I chose from their category.  I noted their scores on this rubric.

After giving each group the link to view the final list of questions, I had them create a copy of it and start answering the questions.  I reminded them that the more specific textual support they used, the better they’d be.

I gave them 2 days to answer the questions (which also happened to be over the weekend, so technically, I guess I gave them 4 days).  They definitely needed that time.

Day 4 (BRAWL DAY 1)

I arranged my room by creating a circle of 6 tables (I have 2-seater tables and chairs) with 6 chairs in the middle and three chairs around each of the tables.  I instructed to students to leave all their bags at the door and only bring what they needed to the circle.  Prior to class I had used Class Dojo to randomly pick my Round 1 Tributes and I put them on a Keynote presentation using the firework transition to introduce the Tributes.  I think this was the part my students liked the most.

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My six Tributes in the ring, with their team mates gathered around anxiously, the BRAWL began.  I had each Tribute pick a random question from a hat (these were the same questions from the final list of questions), and asked a student to pick a number to decide which Tribute would start answering his/her question first.  Thus, the ball started rolling.

Tribute 1 read and answered his/her question.  Then the other Tributes were free to rebut or add-on to the answer given.  Once a team’s Tribute answered/rebutted/added-on, then the team members would be allowed to rebut/add-on.

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This is one area where I will do things differently next time. Because I didn’t limit the number of times each person could speak (even though they only got a score for the first time they contributed in each round, except for Tributes), it meant that Round 1 took almost 45 minutes! Next time I will give team members a token or coin, and they must give me their token/coin prior to speaking… and once their token/coin is gone, they can’t talk again in that round.
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Round 1 continued, going clockwise around the circle of Tributes, with the others adding-on/rebutting.

When Round 1 finally finished, I gave students 5 minutes to choose a new Tribute (or reuse the same one) and to choose a question from the final question list to answer in Round 2.  I also reminded them than any team that had a team member who didn’t contribute in Round 1 or Round 2 would cost their team 100 points.  Wow! That motivated some of them to step up!

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Some of my teams used Google Chat during the BRAWL to communicate with their Tribute and with their other team members. They asked if this was cheating, and I said, “absolutely not!” I love that they found a way to work together even in a situation where it might be difficult given the nature of the activity. So, Bravo!
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Day 5 (BRAWL DAY 2)

Round 2 began with the team-chosen Tributes answering team-chosen questions.  The rule was that if another team answered your chosen question before you, then you had to pick a new question.  The same rules applied regarding rebutting/adding-on.

This round lasted almost until the end of the class period.  Because it lasted so long, I nixed doing a Bonus Round.  I directed students to the two surveys:

[av_font_icon icon=’ue812′ font=’entypo-fontello’ style=” caption=” link=” linktarget=” color=’#dd9933′ size=’20px’ position=’left’][/av_font_icon] Peer Point Distribution: I wish I remembered who posted the comment about having students do a point distribution when completing group work, but here’s approximately what he said:   “Before you begin, you’ll need to do some math. Use a simple math formula to identify “Total Group Points.”    [number of people in the group] x [mark out of 100 earned by group] + [1 point for each person in the group].   For example, a group of 3 that earned an 80 would have 243 points (3 x 80 + 1), while a group of 4 that earned an 80 would have 324 points (4 x 80 +4).  I gave students their group score based on the rubric (shared above), and I gave them the formula.  They did the math and completed the survey (I used SurveyMonkey to create it, but Google Forms would have worked just as well, or better).  I used each person’s team point average to add on to the points awarded to the entire team.

[av_font_icon icon=’ue812′ font=’entypo-fontello’ style=” caption=” link=” linktarget=” color=’#dd9933′ size=’20px’ position=’left’][/av_font_icon] Award Survey: Students voted for the class member who they felt had the best answer and the class member who was the best speaker.  I used SurveyMonkey for this because it creates a nice visual chart of student responses.  I don’t know if Google Forms could do that.

The last thing I had my students do was go back to the final question list and if desired, add comments (each student could add one comment, worth up to 10 points).  This allowed students to give a bump to their individual grade.

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This is another area where I’ll do things differently. I think I will have students add comments to their group answer document and to be able to add more than one comment (maybe up to 3 comments).
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Day 6

I added all the scores to the rubric (Pre-Brawl questions and randomly-chosen & graded question, Round 1 and Round 2 scores, Comment score, Survey Scores).  I came up with an overall score for my students (I think it ended up being out of 300 points because I skipped the Bonus Round), to which I added their average peer-distributed score.  Then I divided this total number of points earned by 400.  This gave me a percentage out of 100 which became their final score for the BRAWL.  I know this part might be kind of confusing.  Most of this is on the BRAWL Rubric shared above, but you could always contact me if you’re really confused.  I’ll try to clarify.

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Some of my students complained that it wasn’t fair to give a group grade because they had team members who didn’t contribute as much. However, considering each team member had access to the team-generated answers, this shouldn’t have been an issue. I don’t know if I’ll change this next time, but maybe I’ll make the team member rebuttals/add-ons worth more. Or, I’ll do as Mr. Theriault does: “Students get 100 points each for their group work and 50 points each for the individual answers. This encourages them to try hard and to help each group member prepare for the BRAWL.”
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Final Thoughts

This was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun.  My students really liked it, and I think they learned more than if we just discussed.  I also think the change in format was good for them (and me).  I wouldn’t plan to do it for every discussion, but as an end-of-novel activity, it works really well.

My kids were this happy:

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(Sorry, gratuitous cat picture)

Thanks Mr. Theriault!

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