Keeping up with the conversation: Speed dating

The third strategy of a five-part post about discussion strategies.

These five strategies will help students to improve small-group communication while also allowing them to synthesize important course content in large-group discussions.

It is appropriate and fair to see setting up discussions as one of the most difficult instructional strategies in our lessons. The easiest way to do it is to just pose questions to students. The downfall, as I’m sure many of us have experienced, is that we tend to have frequent high-flyers in the discussion, which lets many others fly under the radar. This post offers the first of four different discussion strategies that can be used to (1) hold students accountable for their learning, (2) improve small group communication and culture, (3) integrate different types of learning styles, and (4) promote student ownership of their learning. This series’s fifth and final post will be about keeping track of the discussion and appropriately evaluating discussions.

The four different types of discussions I will share include: (1) Jigsaw, (2) Fishbowl, (3) Speed Dating, and (4) Affinity Mapping. Beyond explaining each type of discussion, I offer (a) what you (and sometimes students) need to do to prepare, (b) what students need to do as part of the discussion – their engagement with the lesson, and (c) what type of reflection could be used to conclude the discussion.

Speed Dating

What is it?

A speed dating discussion creates opportunities for students to have one-on-one conversations with several students in their class before making connections or synthesizing in a large-group setting.

There are multiple variations of this discussion style (a variation of think-pair-share). I will address three here: Concentric Circle, Elevated Speed Dating, and Walk-and-Talks


Speed-dating discussions require minimal preparation for instructions and more preparation for the students. The preparation does, however, depend on the style of discussion. The preparation will focus more on physical space for two of the three.

Concentric circle design
  • Concentric Circle: This type of speed dating discussion is the simplest and reflects the most common form of social speed dating. Students will be in concentric circles (and inner and outer circles facing one another) and will have one question posed to them. They will receive a specified amount of time to discuss their answers to that question with a partner. The inner circle moves when the time is up and new partners are made.
    • Instructor: Your preparation as an instructor is focused on setting up the room and a question to pose to your students. Set up the room using a configuration similar to the design included here. If you want nearly every student to speak to one another, you must modify the shape to be more like a snake.
    • Student: Their preparation focuses on reading ahead of time.
  • Elevated Speed Dating: This speed dating type is the most prep-intensive of the lot. In this form, students will also form concentric circles, but instead of one question, they are posed different questions at different types of the process. I use this form of speed dating with peer review. You can utilize this type of discussion for reading; however, your preparation will need to focus on a deep and critical dissection of the text, which will require giving students more time than you would with a peer review.
    • Instructor: The preparation here requires heightened focus on layers of thinking. In particular, you will break down the reading or assignment so that students integrate each layer. You will also need to include questions that are big ideas as well. If you are using a peer review exercise, draw from the rubric. If you are using a reading, build on core reading strategies and tools for analysis.
    • Student: In this type of discussion, students should come prepared with either an assigned reading or something to peer review.
  • Walk-and-Talk: This type of speeding dating discussion requires the least amount of preparation – both question and space – but does require the most dependence on students. In this type of discussion, students will receive a question to talk about with a partner for an extended time (8 to 10 minutes, usually). The students will leave the classroom and walk around. The goal is that they don’t stop and sit. This is a shortened version of a gallery walk discussion.
    • Instructor: This is minimal preparation, especially since you can call an audible in your lesson and use it quickly. The focus here is on developing a question that students can spend a lengthier amount of time analyzing and talking about with a partner (or trio).
    • Student: Student preparation is dependent on the purpose. You can use this style to rehash a reading assignment or activity, or you can use it to break up your lesson and get students up and talking (especially if the conversation is getting stale).


Participating in a speed dating exercise is both fun and inventive. Students will enjoy the opportunity to engage with several classmates while finding ways to build knowledge differently. When you use this approach, the focus becomes on interpersonal communication and culture building.

  1. TO START: Introduce the speed dating activity. Depending on which approach you take, your directions will be different. Still, you must address (1) the purpose of the activity (be transparent about which type you are using), (2) the use of space, and (3) timing throughout the discussion.
    • Concentric Circles: Students will be provided with a consistent amount of time, such as four minutes per cycle (equally divided among the pair). The question is also consistent throughout.
    • Elevated Speed Dating: Time will depend on the round, and students will be made aware of how much time they have when they learn the question for that cycle. The question changes depending on the purpose of the round/cycle. For example, the first round may focus on students talking about their ideas, the fourth round may be about grammar, and the fifth is about formatting and style (if you are peer-reviewing).
    • Walk-and-Talk: Students receive a bulk amount of time (8-10 minutes) and are asked to answer one to three questions. They are then asked to walk out and keep walking. They return at the end of the provided time.
  2. QUESTION: Introducing the question will be done in two ways. The question will be introduced and explained upfront if you use concentric circles or walk-and-talk. Make sure to tie the question to the lesson objectives as well. If you are utilizing elevated speed dating, students will be introduced to the question at the beginning of each shift. Do not give them all the questions upfront, as they will want to move beyond what is expected. Providing the students with one question/prompt at a time will allow them to focus their attention.
  3. SPEED DATE: Students will work on the question/prompt within the provided time. If you are using the elevated speed dating activity, students should have the reading or peer review piece with them, and it should be marked up throughout the process.
  4. DISCUSS: It helps to conclude speed dating with a whole group discussion. This will give students a chance to synthesize and respond to one another. Here are some questions that can help you guide that discussion:
    • Ask students to respond to the starting question again.
    • What changed as you progressed through the activity?
    • What challenged you?
    • What supported you?
    • How did nonverbals impact your one-on-one experiences?
    • How did you manage your time?


Giving students a chance to reflect on the experience is important. While the whole-group discussion that follows the speed dating allows for some of that reflection to emerge, I find it important to ask students to independently reflect on the following questions:

  • Where did you start this activity (i.e., how did you first answer the question? How did you feel at the beginning of class about your knowledge)?
  • How did your interactions build your understanding or answer to the question(s)?
  • Were there any pivotal interactions that challenged your initial thoughts? Why?
  • Where are you ending this activity (i.e., what is your answer to the question now? How do you feel about your knowledge at the end of this lesson)?

Students can turn the answers in as an exit slip, they can share them if they are comfortable, or they can be for the students’ eyes only. Whichever option you select is more reflective of what you need from the activity. I tend to go the exit-slip route because I can use this as a formative assessment. It also helps me hold the students accountable for their metacognitive practice.

2 responses to “Keeping up with the conversation: Speed dating”

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