- Create a comfortable environment; encourage students to express different points of view and to “think out loud.”
- Get to know your students and the skills and perspectives they bring to the discussions.
- Explain the rules and expectations for discussions at the outset.
- Communicate to students the importance of discussion to their success in the course as a whole.
- Plan and prepare.
- Combine discussions with other teaching methods.
During the Discussion
- Provide a structure. For example, write an outline or guiding questions on the board.
- Use the chalkboard throughout the class to record key points, ideas, and questions.
- Prompt students to speak with one another.
- Create a balance between controlling the group dynamic and letting group members speak.
- Show respect for all questions and comments; use verbal and non-verbal cues to encourage participation.
- Do not answer your own questions.
After the Discussion
- Reflect on how it went. Jot down ideas for revision or improvement.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Talking too much; answering your own questions or asking more than one question at once.
- Asking too many questions that are “closed,” or have only one correct answer.
- Letting the discussion become a one-on-one conversation or debate with one student.
- Attempting to lead a class-wide discussion in a large class (greater than 40 students).
- Letting a small number of talkative students dominate the discussion.
- Assuming that quiet students do not have questions or comments.
- Assuming that students are able to discern, remember, and understand the most important ideas generated in the discussion.
- Expecting students who are new to a topic to discuss it at the same level as students who have already studied the topic in depth or who are intellectually more mature.
- Failing to redirect students back to the ideas at hand when the discussion strays off topic.
- Asking a student to speak for or represent a group of people, especially if that group is in the minority in the class or at the University.
*For a more detailed discussion of this topic, see Teaching with Discussions.
© 2012, The Teaching Center, Washington University in St. Louis