15 Ways Parlay Increases Student Voice

What is Student Voice?

Let’s not reinvent the wheel. According to The Glossary of Education Reform, “In education, student voice refers to the values, opinions, beliefs, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds of individual students and groups of students in a school, and to instructional approaches and techniques that are based on student choices, interests, passions, and ambitions.”

Why is student voice important to us?

At Parlay, we believe there is a paradigm shift happening in education. Policy makers and practitioners around the world are shifting the focus from teacher-led to student-led classrooms, where student voice becomes the focal point of the learning experience.
When it comes to student-led discussions, we have already documented the positive impact they can have on student achievement and the development of critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills. The challenge is that most students do not willingly and actively contribute ideas to class discussions. We have also already documented how Parlay can double or triple participation rates in class discussions, boosting student voice, ensuring a range of diverse perspectives, and fostering equal opportunity to contribute.
This post outlines the 15 features of the Parlay toolkit that make these results possible. We will start with content from the Parlay Universe before moving on to the Online and Live RoundTable discussion activities.

Part 1 – The Parlay Universe

The Parlay Universe is a library of discussion prompts for teachers to use in their classroom. When crafting discussion prompts, we are conscious about picking topics and questions that students are eager to explore, and as a result, more likely to participate meaningfully. Here are three ways we do that:
1. Give students choice. Where possible, we give students choice when deciding which specific aspect of the topic they would like to explore when answering the prompt. For example, in the RoundTable below “What can YOU do to defend human rights?” students are asked to pick one of the 30 Articles of the Declaration of Human Rights and to answer the discussion questions through the lens of that Article.
2. Ask for their opinion / experience. Beyond students having choice in which specific ideas they investigate, we ask students to draw upon their own experience, provide their own opinion, or propose their own solution to a problem. This offers them the opportunity to connect more personally and creatively to the activity, increasing the propensity that they will contribute meaningful and unique ideas. For example, in the discussion topic below, students are asked to “Identify one small but important thing that you can do to be a part of the solution.”
3. Connect learning to the real world. This one is pretty self-explanatory. When school is connected back to the events and ideas shaping our world, students are more eager to contribute. A direct link is not always possible, but we try our best to ensure that at least one of the questions in the prompt connects back to current ideas and events.
Title: What can YOU do to defend human rights?
Goal: Bring human rights thinking to our local communities.
Requested By: Sheila Howard
Location: Palatine, Illinois
Grade Level: Middle School (6-8) +
Subject: History, Social Studies

Part 2 – Online RoundTable

The Online RoundTable is a written discussion activity, that can be done synchronously or asynchronously. There are five key features that increase student voice in this activity:
4. Secret Identities. One of the most coveted features in the Parlay toolkit. In an Online RoundTable, teachers have the option of enabling secret identities for students. When this happens, students are each randomly assigned a character from history. They will engage in dialogue using this pseudonym for the duration of the RoundTable. Teachers can see who is who, but students are engaging with an eclectic group of famous and influential people from all over the world. The upside? Students who are unsure of their ideas, not confident in their writing skills, or otherwise uncomfortable sharing for any reason do not have to fear being personally judged for their ideas. This also extends to comments and peer feedback, ensuring that the RoundTable becomes a conversation of ideas rather than “who said what”. See below for an example:
5. Scaffolding. Students must respond to the discussions questions independently before joining the conversation and providing peer feedback. The upside? Each student takes the time and effort to formulate and communicate their own ideas, helping them build the capacity and confidence to share their views on complex issues. This response-first approach also puts all ideas on a level playing field for constructive feedback.
6. Guided Feedback Questions. Providing peer feedback and building on, challenging, or questioning others’ ideas is a real skill. For many students this is new, and probably easier to just skip out on this part of the activity. Parlay provides students with “guided feedback questions” to help them develop confidence get started with their peer feedback. Teachers can configure peer feedback questions to suit the needs of the topic / class. See example below:
7. Model Submissions. In an Online RoundTable, teachers can “star” model submissions. This serves as a way to highlight specific ideas and conversations that are exemplary or worthy of investigation for any reason. Ideas that might not otherwise receive unique attention are brought to the forefront of the conversation, amplifying student voice.
8. Live Discussion Foundation. Parlay’s toolkit is designed to be used in a continuum, starting with a question from the Parlay Universe, followed by an Online RoundTable (written discussion), and capped off with a Live RoundTable (verbal discussion). The goal is for all students to have contributed their own ideas, received feedback, and engaged with the ideas of others before they dive deeper in person. When used in this manner, the Online RoundTable serves as a foundation for the face-to-face discussion – increasing each student’s knowledge and confidence, and creating a level playing field for constructive dialogue.
9. Data Reflection (Online). At the end of an Online RoundTable, Parlay provides teachers and students with data visualizations that document – among other things – how balanced and inclusive the class discussion was. Specifically, we provide statistics on the percentage of students who contributed unique ideas, commented on the ideas of others, and even received a comment of their own. See below:

Part 3 – Live RoundTable

Parlay’s Live RoundTable is a synchronous verbal discussion that takes place inside the classroom. Within this Socratic Seminar style activity, we have developed a number of key features to amplify student voice – increasing the proportion of students who are willing and able to contribute to the conversation.
10. Tapping In. Before joining the conversation students “tap in” to declare their intention to speak. When doing so, they select one of four contribution types: new idea, build on, challenge or question. Taking this step before verbalizing a thought creates a collective awareness (everyone knows all the other students who want to contribute) and serves as a small psychological step toward contributing. This really helps students who would otherwise be too shy to interject into the conversation the ability to do in a step-wise and comfortable manner. See below: 
11. Vote for Speaker. In classes of 20 or more students, there are often several students who want to participate simultaneously. In these situations, it is often the loudest or most confident students that end up contributing (yet again). In Parlay, students can “vote” for who they’d like to hear from by pressing the ear icon next to that student’s name. When expectations are set correctly (students understand that one of the goals is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to contribute ideas)  this system serves to ensure that every student who wants to contribute can do so. Some teachers will even assign a moderator who is responsible for determining the order of speakers based on these votes.
12. Private Notes / Guiding Questions. Students are encouraged to take private notes during the discussion. This helps them organize their ideas before it is their turn to speak. It also provides an opportunity for the quieter students to demonstrate their thinking and understanding to the teacher without having to contribute. From here, we encourage teachers to nudge and/or provide post-discussion feedback to help students build the confidence towards participating in subsequent conversations.


Teachers create “Guiding Questions” to help kick-start the conversation and improve the quality / focus of student notes.
13. Nudging. During the Live RoundTable teachers can send private “nudges” to students in real-time. These can be used to encourage them to participate, or send positive feedback following a meaningful contribution.
14. Polling. Teachers can run live polls, gauging class opinion and sentiment in an anonymous manner. The results of the poll will often lead to the teacher to encourage the minority position to explain their thinking and kick-off the conversation.
15. Data Reflection (Live). At the end of an Online RoundTable, Parlay provides teachers and students with data visualizations that document – among other things – how balanced and inclusive the class discussion was. Specifically, the class can reflect on how what percentage of students contributed to the discussion, who spent the most time “tapped in” and who tapped in the most number of times. With this, the class can decide how they can work together to ensure every voice is heard in the future.


Great learning experiences come when there is a healthy diversity of perspectives and ideas around the table, and when all students are willing and able to participate. This is also true of the strongest and most creative organizations and communities in our world. Our team works hard every day to ensure that all students are able to develop the skills of the future through inclusive and meaningful conversations. We would love for you to try Parlay in your classroom, and see the difference for yourself.

Try Parlay today. Your students will thank you!