Town Hall Meetings Develop Skills and Build Community by Letting Students Shine

by 3rd/4th grade teachers Jaime Leonard and Joe Esse

A recent town hall meeting in 3rd/4th grade

Should teachers give homework?
Should teachers pay students to go to school?
Should hunting be banned?
Should students pick their own seats?
Should Akiba have 3rd and 4th graders in the same class?
If you do the crime, should your parents do the time?
Should school be year-round?
Should student-athletes have to get good grades?
Should junk food be banned in school?
If you see someone cheating in class, should you tell on them?
Should animals be used to test new products?
Should surveillance cameras be used in school?

These are some of the questions 3rd and 4th graders grapple with during their weekly town hall meeting debates.

While town hall meetings are a perennial favorite for students, their value extends way beyond fun. 

In 3rd and 4th grade, friendships and peer relationships begin to become more complicated as students develop into even more complex individuals with varying interests, challenges, needs, and gifts.

Thus, as teachers, our social-emotional learning goals are designed to help students navigate these new complexities while growing into a stronger community of learners.

Classroom debates allow students to practice important community skills within a defined context. 

They learn how to:

  • think from various perspectives
  • express themselves clearly
  • respectfully respond to an opponent
  • research the weekly topic in order to back up their argument with facts 

Debates are just one piece of our town hall meeting, however.

The town hall is also an opportunity for children to try on different jobs, experiment with different skills, and highlight--or discover--their gifts. 

Students rotate through jobs, including current events reporter, orator, book reviewer, and entertainer:

The current events reporter practices research, reading, summary, and synthesis skills. They must find an article from the news, read it independently, and share it with the class--not by reading it, but by putting it into their own words. We encourage students to look for the fun or unusual in the news. Some of the popular current events topics have been about two headed snakes, bathtub races and UFO sightings.

The orator practices their reading fluency and public speaking skills. The orator has full choice in what to read: a favorite poem, inspiring quote, a famous speech or write an original poem. This also reinforces student autonomy and ownership of reading.

The book reviewer is another opportunity for students to experience autonomy as a reader. We believe that students’ reading skills grow when they love what they read. Sometimes, there is no better guide in finding what they love than their peers. So, the book reviewer brings in a favorite book to share, summarizes it, and “pitches” it to the class.

The entertainer is one of the students’ favorite town hall meeting jobs. For our classrooms to be true learning communities, children must genuinely value each other. As the entertainer, students showcase their gifts and interests and bring a spark to their classmates’ days. Kids have broken wooden boards, played instruments, done magic tricks, or performed comedy routines.

Our town hall meetings are an integral part of the learning in 3rd and 4th grade, helping to build the trust, camaraderie, and skills our students need to support their learning together. They strengthen our classroom community while giving each child the opportunity to shine.


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