• Carefully consider your objectives for a discussion. Do you want students to apply newly learned skills, mull over new subject matter, learn to analyze arguments critically, practice synthesizing conflicting views, or relate material to their own lives? These goals are not mutually exclusive, but they require different types of direction.
• Use discussion to help students link concepts to their own lives; to encourage students to evaluate material critically; and to address topics that are open-ended, have no clear resolution, and/or can be effectively addressed through multiple approaches.
Setting the Agenda
• Share your planning decisions with your students. Let them know what your focus is, and why it is important; also invite students to contribute suggestions for discussion topics and formats.
• Make sure the assigned material is discussed in class; if the students don’t come prepared with questions and responses, do not let the discussion wander. Bringing in specific quotes, problems, or other samples of the assigned material can ensure that even under-prepared students will have something to talk about.
• Consider asking students to email or post to a discussion board their thoughts. This will also give you insight into the students’ thoughts while you plan the discussion.
Facilitate, Don’t Dominate
• Use open-ended questions and ask students for clarification, examples, and definitions.
• Summarize student responses without taking a stand one way or another.
• Invite students to address one another and not always “go through” you.
• Pause to give students time to reflect on your summaries or others’ comments.
• Consider taking notes of main points on a whiteboard or document camera.
• Toward the end of the discussion, review the main ideas, the thread of the discussion, and conclusions.
Creating a Good Climate for Discussion
• Arrange the room to maximize student- to-student eye contact; e.g., chairs around a table or in a circle.
• When students ask questions, realize you (the instructor) do not have to provide the answer.
• Notice who did and who did not participate.
• Check the tone of the discussion—was it stimulating and respectful?
• Ask students about their reactions to the discussion session.
For more information on this topic, please contact the Coulter Faculty Commons Educational Development Team at 227-7196.