Discussions offer students the opportunity to articulate their knowledge and ideas, to hear a variety of viewpoints and perspectives, to develop their position related to a topic and learn to evaluate their own and others’ positions.

Why Use Discussions?

Using discussions in class:

  • Allow an instructor to assess student learning through performance.
  • Make learning active as students work through complicated ideas and concepts collaboratively.
  • Help build community.
  • Allow students to learn about and evaluate different positions and receive feedback on their own.
  • Enable students to participate as co-constructors of knowledge.
  • Provide opportunities to develop conventions of discourse within a discipline.
  • Expose students to complexity and ambiguity in a supportive environment.
  • Allow students to synthesize and integrate new knowledge.
  • Develop students’ ability to articulate ideas and meanings clearly.

Getting Started with Discussions

  • Involve students in a discussion on the first day and explain the value of discussion to your course.
  • Communicate your expectations for participation. If it is graded, explain clearly how you will do this by using a rubric.
  • Use icebreakers to increase students' comfort level with each other.
  • Consider how you will structure different sized discussion groups.
  • Use a visual aid to help direct discussions in larger classes and instruct students to refrain from sitting in certain rows to allow you and your teaching assistants to circulate and guide students as needed.
  • Clarify the difference between debates and discussions to students. Discourage the need to reach a consensus and encourage students to explore possibilities and present evidence to support their points.