Middle School Programs2023-10-11T23:09:37-04:00

The Touchstones Classroom

Touchstones gives your students the tools to engage in respectful discussion about their opinions and ideas while developing leadership skills.

Why Touchstones?

  • Take a Systematic Approach – Touchstones intentionally builds your students’ discussion skills as they move through The Four Stages of group development.
  • Support Social-Emotional Learning – Touchstones builds self-awareness, self-regulation, and confidence as your students learn to navigate and take responsibility for group dynamics.

  • Foster an Inclusive Culture – In Touchstones, your students’ experiences and voices take center stage as the group explores diverse ideas and works toward shared leadership. Each text is adapted for grade level accessibility and read aloud by the teacher.

  • Personalized Support Our approach is responsive to your needs and rooted in relationships. Custom training, coaching, and feedback is always available from Touchstones’ highly experienced staff.

How Touchstones Works

Touchstones uses a systematic and intentional approach to help your students build high level speaking, listening, and critical thinking skills. Lessons happen once a week alongside your existing curricula and programs and build skills that your students can apply anywhere – in school or in life!

1. Ground Rules

Five ground rules anchor your students in respectful discussion, and are referred back to throughout the lesson.

2. Text for Discussion

Texts serve as tools to support inclusive group dynamics and raise ideas that all your students can explore.

3. Individual Work

Individual activities provide space for your students to connect their own experiences and opinions to the ideas in the text.

4. Small Group Work

Small groups provides a safer space for sharing ideas, and help your students practice collaborative learning.

5. Whole Group Discussion

Your students share and explore ideas together, while learning to recognize their own strengths and make space for others.

6. Discussion Evaluation

Our evaluation tools help your students reflect, recognize and take responsibility for group dynamics, and set goals for the next week.

What can I expect from Touchstones?

Touchstones strengthens the work you’re already doing to build your students’ discourse skills, enhancing the outcomes of programs and strategies like Socratic seminar, restorative practices, International Baccalaureate, and AVID. Our essential skills align with many states’ English Language Arts speaking and listening standards, as well as civics skills standards and social-emotional learning frameworks, including 21st Century Skills.

Touchstones Essential Skills



Active Listening


Reflective Thinking

Analytical Reasoning

Cooperative Learning

Evidenced-Based Results

Touchstones is research-based and refined by over 38 years of teacher feedback – so we know how powerful it can be! Here’s what schools report about student growth across grade levels after just one year using the program.

↑ 85%

of students improved critical thinking skills

↑ 82%

of students listened more attentively to peers

↑ 83%

of students spoke directly to each other, rather than through the teacher

↓ 21%

reduction in school-wide instances of bullying

What Schools Are Saying About Touchstones

Through Touchstones Discussion class, we have learned to communicate with our fellow human beings, an essential skill for survival. [It] has helped us…to start to examine the world around us.”

Alexander, 8th Grade Student

St. Martin’s-in-the-Field Day School, MD

Touchstones is more than a once a week lesson for me in my room, it is a way of life. It is a method of teaching and a mindset. It has changed everything for me. I no longer ask kids to raise their hands in my room. We follow the Ground Rules even when we are not in the circle. It has changed the way I think, interact and respond to others. It is my constant. I thank you and the project!”

T. Miller

Teacher, Rising Sun Middle School, MD

Thanks to Touchstones, our students are better listeners and better problem-solvers and much more considerate of one another.”

Karole Turner-Campbell

Director, Frederick Douglass Academy II, NY

What makes Touchstones different?

In a Touchstones class, teachers take on the role of learner, students become leaders, and the text for discussion strategically builds skills.

The Role of Your Students

  • Engage in multiple ways – through speaking, listening, writing and individual, small group, and large group activities.

  • Break old habits – your students learn to recognize and change the role they typically play in a group discussion.

  • Take ownership – your students take increasing responsibility for recognizing and addressing issues in group dynamics.

  • No outside preparation – Touchstones does not require students to prepare before class, allowing everyone to participate in the discussion.

The Role of the Teacher

  • Facilitator – teachers support students’ exploration of ideas, rather than guiding them from point A to predetermined point B.

  • No longer the “sage on the stage” – freed from being “the expert,” teachers leave room for students to take initiative.

  • Intervene strategically – teachers learn what they can do to improve the flow and dynamics of the discussion.

  • Know when to let go – Teachers also decide when not to intervene, allowing students to recognize and take responsibility for solving problems.

The Role of the Texts

  • Texts are short and do not require additional context or background information.

  • Touchstones’ texts emphasize building discussion skills over delivering content.

  • Ideas in the texts are explored and questioned collaboratively, rather than simply accepted.

  • Texts are ordered intentionally to raise issues the group will encounter as it progresses through The Four Stages.

Explore More Touchstones Tools and Resources

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