Classroom discussions can serve as a place for students to communicate with the instructor and peers. Students can improve their understanding of classroom materials as they talk about content.3 Here are recommendations that can enhance discussions:

  • Establish participation expectations in your syllabus.  Clearly communicate expectations and rules for discussions.1,3
  • Before starting a discussion, ask if there are questions about the readings or if a review of the past lecture is needed. Students will feel more comfortable and prepared to participate.  
  • Use classroom space and equipment effectively. Set up the desks in a circle or horseshoe shape, and sit with students.1
  • To help keep the discussion focused, post the topic or question on the board.1
  • After you pose a question, allow students a few seconds to think about an answer before you call on someone.1 
  • Conversations should be concise and informal.3
  • Prepare effective discussion questions. Incorporate questions related to readings, course content and outside materials that relate to the content.  Have students think about materials, and highlight key points or ideas. Have students support what they say-why do they agree or disagree?3
  • At times, there are some students who dominate class discussions. Calling on students one by one allows quieter students the opportunity to express opinions and engage in the conversation.2 

Facilitating Student-Led Discussions

Sometimes it is important for students to lead the discussion, but instructors must be prepared to step in and guide the conversation if necessary.  

  • Assign students to be discussion leaders each week. 
  • Ask students questions about their responses (don’t always provide answers).3  
  • Acknowledge interesting or unusual points made.3
  • Intervene when the group needs to be refocused or steered in a new direction.2 
  • Suggest alternative viewpoints or ways to solve a problem.3
  • Correct wrong information.3  
  • Promote all learners, and keep one or two people from dominating the discussion.1,2,4
  • Provide positive reinforcement and constructive feedback.2
  1. http://www.usciences.edu/teaching/tips/spal.shtml#discussion
  2. http://facultyinnovate.utexas.edu/teaching/strategies/discussion/approaches
  3. http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/instructionalstrategies/discussions.html
  4. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/classroom-discussion-professors-share-favorite-strategies-for-engaging-students/

For examples of group discussions see Structuring Discussions: Online and Face-to-Face