Step 1: Preparing
To lead an effective discussion, you need to be familiar with the readings and assignment materials. This doesn’t mean you have to be an expert, just that you have read the assigned materials and have spent time reflecting on what it means.
Jot down the main ideas and most important points from the materials.
Write down one or two questions that encourage the other participants to dig deeper into each point. (See Types of Questions, located at the end of this document.) (7)
Step 2: Posting
Write one to two meaningful paragraphs because long messages are difficult to read online. Be concise. (2) More words does not mean better post. Say enough to give a background for why you are asking the questions or what prompted your questions.
Add some of your questions to the bottom of your narrative to start the conversation.
Step 3: Sustaining the Discussion
Your job doesn’t stop after the initial question post is complete. You now need to help to sustain the discussion and keep it moving.
“Here are some suggestions:
- Get students to talk to each other. Ask for a response to the most recent comments. (Anyone have a response to Clara's opinion?) Or ask a specific student to respond. (Clara, do you agree with Ralph?)
- Get students to defend or explain their opinions. (Marvin why do you say that? What's your evidence or reasoning?)
- Encourage an exploration of differing points of view. When you hear conflicting views, point them out and get the holders of those views to discuss their differences. Perhaps ask a third person to sum up the two positions.
- Keep the class on the subject. If you are even halfway familiar with the material, you know when the discussion is no longer connected to it. Just say so. (We've gotten pretty far from the readings; let's get back on the subject.) Or simply consult your list of questions. Any sensible response to one of your questions is bound to be pertinent.
- Point to a particular passage in the text relevant to a comment made by one person, or to a discussion among several. This might be a passage that challenges, or sums up and confirms, the views being expressed.
- Don't fill every silence with your own voice. Any discussion will lapse occasionally. It is not your job as leader to avoid all silence. Some quiet periods are productive. Students who are not so quick to speak will frequently get the chance they need when others are quiet. If the silence gets too heavy, take advantage of the other students' lists of questions. (Ginny, give us one of the questions you brought to class.)” (7)
- Encourage debate. (6)
- At the end, summarize and post your report about the discussion. (6)
- You are the leader and facilitator, not the brains of the operation. As is outlined in the Student-Led Discussion Manual, “You are not expected to know it all; the class is full of students who have read the same assignment that you read. Your job is to give them a chance to talk about it and thus give others the benefits of their thinking. On the other hand, if any one student begins to do all the talking, gently correct this problem by bringing other students into the discussion.”(7)
- If things are going well then relax and contribute when you want.
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