Tips from the McMaster Community

I worry about talkative students hogging the discussion in my lecture.
David Hitchcock, Department of Philosophy

When addressing a question to a class, only a small number of students will have the nerve to speak out in front of the group. One solution is to have discussion breaks in small groups rather than with the class as a whole. I have developed a pattern of using such small group discussions in the context of a large lecture:

  1. I pose a controversial question or a somewhat intellectually challenging problem.
  2. Sometimes, I announce the question in advance of giving the required background information in the lecture, which gives students the opportunity to think about the question as they listen to me and takes notes.
  3. I put the question to be addressed on the board, or on the screen in a large class. That way, students have a visual reminder of the focus of the discussion.
  4. I give advice on group process. First, introduce yourselves to each other. Second, appoint a chair whose functions are to keep the discussion focused, to make sure everybody is involved, and to keep track of time. Third, appoint a secretary to report on the group's consensus.
  5. Quite often, I ask students to write out their own answers to the question posed, before they group into a group. This gives them time to think before talking and listening, and provides some assurance that each student will contribute something to the discussion.
  6. I then ask students to form themselves into groups of four or five.
  7. I take up the groups' answers by either asking each group to put their answer on the board or asking each group to contribute on idea, which I then write on the board. General discussion occurs, with a member of one group questioning or elaborating on what another group has contributed.

Small group discussions take time. Step 7 is especially time-consuming. If you use this method, you have to reduce the amount of content you present. But, the process generates thinking that is worth the trade off.

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