Transactive Discussions

Research has shown the most effective discussions are ones where students actively work to transform the arguments they hear others making. The statements students make when engaging in this process are referred to as transacts and do one of three things:

  • Extend the logic of the argument
  • Refute the assumptions in the argument
  • Find a place of commonality between two conflicting positions

This approach differs from traditional discussions in which a person simply repeats back a speaker’s argument/position. To develop student understanding of fairness and justice, the best discussions are communicative discourse. Communicative discourse occurs when the best argument wins, rather than a person or group.

"When we are engaged in communicative discourse...the goal is to arrive at the best, most compelling position regarding the issue. It is the shared recognition in the force of the reasoning and not the power or skill or the debater that is the winner. In communicative discourse, the outcome is mutual; the argument wins."
Larry Nucci
Videos: Making Sense of Social Cognitive Domain Theory and Transactive Discussions

What is Social Cognitive Domain Theory (SCDT) and why does it matter?

What are Transactive Discussions?

How Does Students’ Reasoning about Issues of Justice

Change Over Time?

What is Moral Reasoning and What is it Not?

Examples and Non-Examples of Transactive Discussions

9 Tips for Engaging in Communicative Discourse
  1. Think before you speak.
  2. Listen carefully to what others have to say.
  3. Do not interrupt.
  4. Make use of what others have said when it’s your turn to speak.
  5. Only say what you truly believe.
  6. Don’t stay silent; make sure to contribute to discussion.
  7. Let other people speak.
  8. Support good ideas even if they are different from your own.
  9. Search for the best solution, even if it is different from the way you thought at first.
Transactive Discussion Practice Games

Learning to Listen

Have students sit in a group and say their favorite color at the same time. Explain how when everyone speaks at the same time we can’t actually hear anything. Therefore, it is important to take turns speaking.

This activity is a modified version of the telephone game. In groups of 4-5, Student 1 tells something to Student 2. Student 2 must then paraphrase it for Student 3. Student 1 has to evaluate if Student 2 was correct in their paraphrase. Student 2 then tells something to Student 3 and evaluates if Students 3's paraphrase was correct, and so on. This activity will support student paraphrasing skills.


The teacher provides a dilemma, such as, “Should a parent be able to tell a kid to clean up his or her room?” or “Should the voting age be lowered to 16?”

Students will then sit in small groups of 4-6 people. Student 1 will express a point of view, and Student 2 will extend or elaborate the argument. Student 3 will then extend or elaborate the arguments from Student 2, and so on.


Similar to the elaboration game except students provide a paraphrase and rebuttal to the argument.

Integrative Resolution (High School)

Similar to the above activities but involves creating an integrative solution to a dilemma. For example, Student 1 presents a position and Student 2 paraphrases and refutes it. Then, Student 3 paraphrases both positions and presents an argument that resolves the differences between players. This process is repeated until everyone in the group offers a solution.

Transactive Discussion Activities: Current Events (Middle & High School)
Engaged citizens must have the ability to engage in communicative discourse around complex topics affecting their community. Importantly, there must be a willingness to compromise when possible and a realization of when compromising is impossible because it infringes on a person's human rights. The handouts you can link to below are focused on current events and challenge students to seek resolution and integration when possible, with an understanding that resolution may not be an option. Use these handouts in conjunction with the games above to support student skill development for engaging in transactive discussion. 
Lesson Plan
A detailed overview of how to best engage students in transactive discussion activities. 
Lesson Plan
Engage students in transactive discourse around current debates regarding reparations for the African American community.
Reparations Handout
Engage students in transactive discourse around current debates regarding the Family Separation Act
Immigration Handout 
Felon Disenfranchisement
Engage students in transactive discourse around current debates regarding the Felon voting rights
Voting Rights Handout
Affirmative Action
Engage students in transactive discourse around current debates regarding Affirmative Action policies
Affirmative Action Handout
Confederate Monuments
Engage students in transactive discourse around current debates regarding Confederate monuments 
Confederate Monuments Handout
Defund the Police
Engage students in transactive discourse around current debates regarding defunding the police 
Defund the Police Handout
Dakota Access Pipeline
Engage students in transactive discourse around current debates regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline 
Dakota Access Pipeline Handout


Applicable Learning Standards

Common Core

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1.b
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1.c.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1.d
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.e