School Programs

K-12 Programs

Since its inception in 1984, Touchstones has grown by leaps and bounds, attracting interest from schools throughout the nation and abroad. The program is implemented in public, private, and parochial schools, as well as in home school environments and after-school programs. The need for Touchstones is recognized in suburban, rural, and inner-city communities, where Touchstones programs help teachers, coordinators, resource and instructional specialists, and administrators to meet their goals–whether those are the Common Core State Standards, state-specific learning standards, 21st Century Learning outcomes, or their own educational philosophies in which civility, critical thinking, collaboration, and discussion-based learning take center stage.

See how Touchstones aligns to greater than 95% of the Common Core Standards for ELA and helps teachers to meet the new Math and Science standards for collaborative discussion.

Alignments to additional state and national standards for ELA, Math, and Science are also available.

What Are You Blind to Video

After reading and discussing a selection from William James; book, On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings, juniors and seniors at the Frederick Douglass Academy in New York City, had these reflections. Watch the video here. (Thanks to the amazing production crew that provided their services to Touchstones and FDA at no charge: Charles Cann, sound; Ray Foley, camera; Joan Babchak, producer; and Robert Wagner from

In a Touchstones discussion, students of all academic abilities improve skills that help them succeed in school, work, and life. As students progress through the Touchstones program, their new skills carry over into other classes and the classroom environment changes dramatically – students build respect for one another as they become aware that all members of the group have valuable strengths and skills to contribute. Touchstones discussions often fill the perceived gap between schoolwork and everyday life as students recognize the relevance of their education to the world around them.

All students benefit from Touchstones discussions – no student is overlooked or left behind. At-risk students show increased maturity, self-esteem, and academic engagement. High-achieving students demonstrate a new respect for others’ opinions and increased thoughtfulness. Some students discover hidden talents and abilities; and teachers and students alike benefit from the sense of community that results from working together.

See a partial list of the thousands of schools that already use Touchstones to build critical thinking skills by clicking here, or download a presentation outlining the the program’s core components by clicking here.

Elementary School

Touchstones’ program for students in the elementary grades helps children learn the fundamentals of the discussion process. Each of the two volumes—Touchpebbles Volume A and Touchpebbles Volume B—contains 30 lessons that were developed for students in grades four and five. (Teachers of students in grades two and three have also used the program successfully.) These lessons expose children to a wide variety of primary source texts, including folktales, myths, and fables from around the world, as well as the writings of many authors over the last 3,000 years. All texts are adapted and edited by Touchstones for grade-level readability.

This short film provides an overview of a Touchstones grade 5 class—from start to finish.

Through their engagement in Touchpebbles discussions, students learn several skills essential to their development as well-rounded learners. These skills include the ability to listen carefully—both to one another and to the text—to speak clearly and organize their thoughts, and to function independently. Through the practice of these skills, students learn to speak to their classmates instead of looking to the teacher for praise or approval. The flexibility of a Touchpebbles discussion encourages freedom of expression while the structures, ground rules, and attention to discussion dynamics ensure that this freedom is used productively and responsibly. Students also develop their critical reading and thinking skills. While it is not intended to be a reading program, participation in Touchpebbles helps students develop strategies which enable them be better, more thoughtful readers. These strategies include making connections between the text, themselves, and the world; learning to ask probing questions and deal with questions for which there is no right answer; making inferences, determining importance, and synthesizing individual pieces of the text into an integrated whole. Because Touchstones Discussions focus on the topics within the text, students gain practice going beyond surface features to the deeper themes the text explores.

“I am impressed at how students are responding so positively to the Touchstones program. In only 6 sessions I have seen them grow. Touchpebbles allows students to speak without judgment, to feel safe and understood. Students keep telling me that they no longer feel alone about how they felt about an emotional or personal issue. They recognize that others in their class may live some of the same issues at home, at school with friends and family. This reassures them that they are indeed not alone and that even adults feel the same way. I am hoping this will lead to more open discussions for the students and their parents. Students are even excited to write about their thoughts on the subject, and their journal entries are insightful and personal. I feel for the first time a connection between the students. It is remarkable.”
-C. Jorgensen, Springfield Heights School, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada


Purchase Elementary School Volumes

Middle School

As their understanding of the world becomes more sophisticated, middle school students develop ideas that they want to discuss. Unfortunately, the social pressures of this age often keep them quiet and reluctant to share their thoughts. Touchstones Discussions provide an opportunity for students to explore ideas and take risks in a safe environment.

The interrelation of the text to themselves and society helps students see their schoolwork as both relevant and meaningful. Touchstones Volumes A, B, and C, the middle school core volumes, each contain 30 lessons exploring a text from a classic work of literature, history, philosophy, science, or a work of art. From the first lesson, students work toward goals that require them to cooperate with one another, speak clearly, and listen carefully.

“My goals in using the program are to increase student understanding of the process of civil discussion and how discussion can lead to deeper understanding of new and important concepts. I also see the goals of the program as essential and prerequisite to the kinds of “anti-bullying” programs that are now so popular in schools. As such, I continuously reference our experiences with Touchstones when we work in our anti-bullying program”
– G. Heidt, Perkiomen Valley Middle School East, Landsdale, PA


Purchase Middle School Volumes

High School

For high schools, Touchstones offers a range of programs and content volumes. The core program consists of Touchstones Volumes 1 and 2. Each is a series of thirty readings designed to take students through the four stages every discussion group passes through on its way to becoming an effective and collaborative group. These stages are 1) Participation, 2) Cooperation and Collaboration, 3) Active Listening, and 4) Shared Leadership.

Touchstones Volume I is a 30 session exploration of the discussion process itself culminating in students working in small groups to prepare and lead the last series of discussions. Touchstones Volume II builds upon that foundation and guides students to go even further and share the role of teacher, for themselves and their peers. Throughout the year, students explore various aspects of their relation to their education: beginning with how they learn with others by examining themselves as participant and leader; next they examine how they teach themselves incorporating exploratory writing to examine themselves as both reader and writer; and finally, how they teach others by examining their role as both student and teacher.

“I love the process materials that are provided with each text. Your work in this area alone makes Touchstones worthwhile. It is our hope that our kids will learn that differing opinions doesn’t mean that one is right and the other wrong. That it is OK to ask people why they believe a certain way and to be curious enough to ask questions in order to expand their worlds.”
-Dr. G. Netzer, Principal, Van Horn High School, Independence, MO


Purchase High School Volumes


Touchstones is also used successfully in extended-day programs that strive to strengthen student speaking, listening, reading, writing, and thinking skills through intensive academic support. In the ACCESS program in Baltimore City at the Bluford Drew STEM Academy, Touchstones was used with 83 students in the One Mic subgroup specifically to build literacy and communication skills. Although Touchstones is not mentioned by name in this evaluation, it was the primary academic program component in One Mic programming. This year end program evaluation outlines statistically significant increases in measures of self-efficacy and enjoyment of the programming among students in the One Mic target group and suggests encouraging changes in attitudes correlated with school attendance, success, and graduation.