Teaching and Learning Resources

Discussion Techniques

Facilitating meaningful discussions is perhaps the most rewarding, yet one of the most challenging techniques. Encouraging student participation through discussion is an effective teaching strategy and a good way to get students talking to each other. Stimulating classroom discussion piques student interest, can create positive perceptions of the material and has been shown to increase the amount of time students spend working with the material, thus encouraging deeper learning. It encourages students and instructors to synthesize readings and insights, to gain confidence in their own ideas, and to learn from each other.

There are also a few challenges in managing successful class discussion. Single-person domination, one-direction-only conversations, tangents, silences, and monotony are all possibilities. While we often think of discussions as open forums for sharing ideas, careful preparation can help to guide students to stay on task and think more deeply about the course material. Strategies to change pace or direction mid-discussion, to better manage reticent students, to structure an unstructured discussion, and ways to incorporate non-discussion techniques (role plays, debates, etc.) can help to ensure effective discussions.

Discussion techniques can also be effectively implemented online. While some students feel uncomfortable and may be unwilling to participate in class discussion, they may thrive in an online discussion. Online discussion is also useful in large classes as it can increase the contact between student and instructor, and build students’ communication and group cooperation skills. 

How do you Encourage Effective On-Line Student Discussion? is a McMaster link that discusses Online Discussion Techniques.

Tips from the McMaster Community

Often when I ask questions in my class, no one volunteers an answer

Suppose you ask a question in class and no one volunteers an answer

I worry about talkative students hogging the discussion in my lecture

Related Resources

Practical Discussion Techniques for Instructors a detailed article written by Ray V. Rasmussen, it is a useful guide to designing questions that will promote student response.

What Questions Engage Students? A one-page summary of Ray Rasmussen's article

Discussion Techniques offers a number of ideas for encouraging group discussion, leading class discussions and a sample discussion plan.