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Stimulating Class Discussions
What can be more fun in a classroom than a spirited discussion on a topic that engages both the instructor and the students? Why can't we get students to contribute to a class discussion? Some students are intimidated by others, some aren't prepared, and others just don't want to be first. There are strategies for getting students to talk!
- How does the physical layout of your classroom facilitate or discourage student participation in class? If possible, enlist students to help you before and after class to move the tables and chairs into a discussion-friendly arrangement.
- Do the students know one another? Students are more likely to engage with one another if they have established rapport. Use some brief exercises at the beginning of the semester to promote familiarity.
- Do the students know what kind of contributions you are seeking? Are you asking a question that only has one right answer? If so, they may feel afraid to be wrong. If you are asking a rhetorical question, make sure they know that there may be a range of responses that are appropriate.
- Is the class discussion really a group effort? Students and instructors both have a tendency to rely upon those willing students who aren't afraid to raise their hands. Use positive body language and eye contact to encourage all students to feel welcome.
- Are there too many students to really engage them all in a discussion? Even classes of 20-30 students can't accomodate each student's contribution. Consider small group activities where students can contribute to a smaller discussion. give each group a subtopic, then ask each group to make a contribution to a larger discussion. Even a very quiet student may feel comfortable conveying collaborative information.
If you are interested in talking with other faculty about classroom discussion strategies, please check our schedule of workshops and seminars for activities.
For more information on facilitating positive classroom discussions, check out these Internet sites:
- Asking and Answering Questions from the Office of Educational Development at the University of California, Berkeley.
- Getting Students Involved in the Classroom from Bergquist, W.H. & Phillips, S.R. (1975) A Handbook for Faculty Development. Council for the Advancement of Small Colleges (pp. 114-17.)
- Sensitive Topics in the Classroom from the University of California, Berkeley.
- Handling Hot Topics in the Classroom: A brochure from the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto.