Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue
decorative image

Leading Good Class Discussion

Discussion is an act or instance of discussing; consideration or examination by argument, comment, etc. especially to explore solutions; informal debate. Discussion has the potential to allow students to interact with material in new ways. When they become active in their own learning they are more likely to move toward higher levels of understanding and thinking critically within the discipline.

The Guidelines to Facilitate Group Discussions

  1. Discussion involves BOTH listening and speaking. Everyone can and should participate;
  2. While it is fine to disagree with another’s viewpoint, make sure the comments are about the content and not the speaker personally;
  3. Treat each other with respect no name calling or putdowns;
  4. The point of a discussion is to learn more and examine our own and others’ views, not to reach a consensus or determine a “right” and “wrong” position; and
  5. It is possible to make content more tangible to students when they are given real life applications for the material they are studying and discussion allows this to happen.
  6. Instead of you, as the discussion leader, summarizing and asking all of the questions, encourage students to listen and summarize what was just shared and to ask the speaker if their summarization is correct. Summarizing in this way begins to open the doors for students to examine their own assumptions and biases. In addition, encourage students to formulate questions to ask the group in order to contribute to and grow the discussion.

An easy, yet effective technique to begin a discussion, and maintain control of the environment, to an extent, while still encouraging participation, and building critical thinking skills is the “Six Thinking Hats” exercise. It forces the participant to move outside of their habitual thinking style, and creates a more objective view of a situation. It benefits the more timid among us as each participant takes on a clearly defined “role”, thereby removing a large portion of the personal risk involved in stating one’s opinion.

image of the hat exercises

It works like this:

  1.  You decide a discussion topic for the day and inform the students, who prepare by reading or watching the prescribed materials. They come to class ready to assume one of six “roles”.
  2. In class, they receive one of six hat colors and the accompanying directions for each hat personality. You, as the instructor, decide if it is more beneficial to have students ALL assume the same role at the same time or to assign each participant a different role. It may depend on your class size, but even large lecture courses can divide themselves into groups of six.
  3. At various intervals, call a time out and check in to see what members are experiencing in their varied roles. They (and you) will learn a lot about their progress in critical thinking as well as their progress with using the material in a way acceptable within your discipline. You can then have them change roles, or debrief the topic. The debrief is especially effective when you have used discussion groups, as you can then build on group experience and knowledge.

Download our “Leading Good Class Discussion” takeaway handout for more tips.