Leading Effective Discussions

How can instructors ensure class discussions are effective? First, let’s define some characteristics of good discussions, and why they are valuable for learning. Discussions work best when students:

  • Are interpreting concepts (and learning) from each other
  • Are bridging the gap between instructor-speak and their own understanding
  • Are engaging in active and thoughtful inquiry
  • Can incorporate instructor feedback to guide new ways of thinking

Tip 1 – Enable confidence: Evidence also shows that smaller groups, assigning discussion roles (listener, facilitator, devil’s advocate) and integrating awareness of group dynamics can all enhance learning by reducing fear and improving comfort levels during discussions.

Tip 2 – Pause often: Give time for reflection and processing during discussions. Students need to organize information, form thoughts, and develop their arguments. Example: use a quick-write to first let students compose their responses to a discussion prompt, then begin the verbal discussion.

Tip 3 – Socratic Solutions: Facilitate discovery by giving students clues instead of answers. Incite curiosity to encourage critical thinking; motivate them with fresh questions, and entice them to analyze further unknowns.