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Leading Discussions

Leading a class in discussion can be challenging. It requires more than just asking questions; the teacher must pay attention to both content and process and must engage the class both intellectually and emotionally. But a great discussion can be one of teaching’s real high points. Here are some pointers for improving the quality and quantity of student participation and learning in a discussion-based class.



The Idea Center, Effective Classroom Discussion (good overview of how to prepare for and carry out a successful discussion class)

Peter Frederick, Ten Ways to Start a Discussion (advice from a historian)

U.C. Berkeley Office of Educational Development, Suggestions for Teaching with Excellence:  Encouraging Class Discussion (20 specific suggestions for leading effective discussions)

Why are you having this discussion anyway?  Stanford’s Center for Teaching and Learning provides this helpful article on Using Class Discussion to Meet Your Teaching Goals.

Leading Discussions:  Opening Up the Conversation (through CUL)

Checklist:  Leading Effective Discussions

Chris Christensen, The Art of Discussion Leading (video)

Managing a Discussion in a Large Class (video)

Questioning:  An Essential Ingredient to Mastering Good Teaching (video)

Formulating Questions

Different Types of Questioning will lead to different types of answers. Which kind do you want? This resource from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching & Learning at Harvard gives good examples.

These question prompts, tied to Bloom’s Taxonomy, can also help you frame the kind of question that elicits the response you’re after.

The University of Hawaii’s Center for Teaching Excellence provides guidance for framing your own questions as well as for teaching students how to develop and articulate questions of their own, in their discussion of Questioning Strategies.

Socratic Questioning can be very effective. This is a helpful list of prompts.

Leading the Discussion

You have a good plan. But how do you handle the ebb and flow of discussion in the class itself. Here are some tips from USC’s Center for Excellence in Teaching, Leading Discussions.

Once you get students to talk, your response can encourage further discussion or kill it. Here, again from Harvard, are some tips to help keep the discussion moving: Techniques for Responding

Another challenge comes in deciding how much, or how little, the teacher should talk. Keeping Teachers’ Voices in Balance helps you find that happy medium (excerpts available through Google Books).

Just because a class is small doesn’t mean discussion-leading will be easy. Consider these ideas from Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Suggestions for Leading Small-Group Discussions.

Studies show that students are more likely to participate in class if you know their names. The University of Nebraska gives 23 strategies in Learning Student Names.