How to Hold Effective Classroom Discussions

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Classroom discussions can be one of the best ways to boost student engagement. As students discuss their perspectives with each other, they’ll not only solidify their understanding of a topic—they may learn to see it in a new light, too.

Teachers, looking for ways to get the most out of class discussions? In this article, we’ll go over why classroom discussions are important and introduce a few techniques to help you supercharge discussions with your students.

Importance of Strong Classroom Discussions

Classroom discussions can help students solidify concepts they may otherwise have a hard time understanding. Rather than passively delivering information, class discussions encourage students to process it as well.[9] This can foster critical thinking skills and help students understand concepts more thoroughly.

Additionally, whole classroom discussions engage students better than teacher-led lectures.[4] Discussions require students to focus and participate in a more involved way than the average lecture. If you’re looking for ways to boost student engagement, discussions can be a great place to start.

Class discussions also expose students to new ideas and perspectives. As your students feel more comfortable sharing their opinions, they’ll likely find that their classmates hold perspectives that are different from their own. In this way, discussions can open students to see topics from a new angle and develop richer opinions.

And finally, class discussions are linked to stronger literacy skills—particularly for English-language learners. According to an article published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, taking part in academic conversations can help English-language learners improve their literacy skills.[6] If you’re looking for ways to help every student in your class improve their reading and writing skills, class discussions can go a long way.

How to Lead a Class Discussion: Helpful Strategies to Know

The unique benefits of class discussions are clear and profound. Clearly, effective discussion should have a place in every classroom. Let’s go over a few strategies that will help you engage your students during class discussions.

Think-Pair-Share

This strategy is a useful one for students who might otherwise be too shy to share their thoughts with the whole class. Pair students into small groups and have them discuss a question or topic. Then, bring the whole class together and have each group share their thoughts.

To learn more about Think-Pair-Share, check out this resource from WETA Adolescent Literacy.

Socratic Circles

Socratic circles can be a useful way to dig into a topic and discuss it at a deeper level than the usual class discussion. It uses a classroom contract to keep the discussion respectful and encourages close-text analysis.

Use this resource from Facing History and Ourselves to learn about socratic seminars in greater depth.

Affinity Mapping

Affinity mapping is a discussion strategy that’s especially useful if you have a lot of visual learners in your class. Split students into groups and have them create a diagram that represents their responses to a question or topic. Then, have each group choose a spokesperson to present their diagram.

This print-out from the School Reform Initiative can help you get started on your own affinity mapping activity.

Lightning Rounds

Looking for a quick but substantial way to fit class discussions into your curriculum? Lightning rounds give students a limited amount of time to answer questions to encourage quick thinking and excitement.

This Edutopia article by educator Richard Curwin is a great resource for learning more about lightning rounds.

Helping Trios

This discussion technique can be a great way to help students “teach” each other. First, call on a student to present a question or topic they’ve been working on. Then, allow your class to provide help or suggestions for solving their question.

To learn more about this technique, we recommend the book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Hammond.

5 Tips for Facilitating Meaningful Class Discussions

The academic and social-emotional benefits of a strong class discussion are clear, and the strategies above will help put you on the right path. As your students learn by sharing their perspectives with one another, your whole classroom will grow together.

Keep these five quick tips in mind to help you guide your students along positive class discussions:

  1. Set a specific goal for your class discussion before holding it.[5] If you’re holding a discussion on Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, for example, your goal might be, “Help students understand the key themes of the book and apply them to their own lives.”
  2. Know the difference between a discussion and debate. The goal of a debate is to win an argument, whereas the purpose of a discussion is to learn together.[7] Both have their place in the classroom, but if you’re aiming for a discussion, make the goal clear to your students.
  3. Make your class discussions a non-threatening environment and encourage students to share their thoughts, even if they’re different from other students’ ideas.[8] That way, every student will feel comfortable and open to new ideas.
  4. Try to make sure every child has a chance to be heard. If you have the choice between calling on a student who always raises their hand and calling on a student who is usually quiet, for example, choose the one who raises their hand less often.
  5. Encourage students to talk to each other, not just to you, to encourage less of a lecture and more communication between your students.[9]

Sources:

  1. Adolescent Literacy. Think-Pair-Share. www.adlit.org/strategies/23277/.
  2. Facing History and Ourselves. Socratic Seminar. https://www.facinghistory.org/resource-library/teaching-strategies/socratic-seminar
  3. Algozzine, B., and Haselden, P.G. Tips for Teaching: Use of Affinity Diagrams as Instructional Tools in Inclusive Classrooms. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 2003, 47, pp. 187-189.
  4. Weimer, M. 10 Benefits of Getting Students to Participate in Classroom Discussions. Faculty Focus. February, 2011. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/10-benefits-of-getting-students-to-participate-in-classroom-discussions/
  5. Indiana University Bloomington Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Discussions. https://citl.indiana.edu/teaching-resources/teaching-strategies/discussions/index.html
  6. Fisher, D., Frey, N., and Rothenberg, C. Content-Area Conversations. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. www.ascd.org/publications/books/108035/chapters/Why-Talk-Is-Important-in-Classrooms.aspx
  7. Krulder, J. Bringing All Students Into Discussions. Edutopia. May, 2018. https://www.edutopia.org/article/bringing-all-students-discussions
  8. Washington University in St. Louis Center for Teaching and Learning. Teaching with Discussions. https://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/resources/teaching-methods/discussions/teaching-with-discussions/
  9. University of Maryland Teaching and Learning Transformation Center. Classroom Discussions. https://tltc.umd.edu/classroom-discussions
  10. Curwin, R. 5 Ways to Make Class Discussions More Exciting. Edutopia. December, 2013. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/make-class-discussions-more-exciting-richard-curwin

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