Teaching Resources

Teaching with Discussions: Overview

Resource Overview

Summary of tips to improve class discussions

This is an outline of the tips discussed in detail in Teaching with Discussions. Also, visit our other discussion related resources listed under “Supporting Material.”

Getting Started

  • Create a comfortable environment; encourage students to express different points of view and to “think out loud.”
  • Get to know your students and the skills and perspectives they bring to the discussions.
  • Explain the rules and expectations for discussions at the outset.
  • Communicate to students the importance of discussion to their success in the course as a whole.
  • Plan and prepare.
  • Combine discussions with other teaching methods.

During the Discussion

  • Provide a structure. For example, write an outline or guiding questions on the board.
  • Use the chalkboard throughout the class to record key points, ideas, and questions.
  • Prompt students to speak with one another.
  • Create a balance between controlling the group dynamic and letting group members speak.
  • Show respect for all questions and comments; use verbal and non-verbal cues to encourage participation.
  • Do not answer your own questions.

After the Discussion

  • Reflect on how it went. Jot down ideas for revision or improvement.

10 Common Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Talking too much; answering your own questions or asking more than one question at once.
  2. Asking too many questions that are “closed,” or have only one correct answer.
  3. Letting the discussion become a one-on-one conversation or debate with one student.
  4. Attempting to lead a class-wide discussion in a large class (greater than 40 students).
  5. Letting a small number of talkative students dominate the discussion.
  6. Assuming that quiet students do not have questions or comments.
  7. Assuming that students are able to discern, remember, and understand the most important ideas generated in the discussion.
  8. Expecting students who are new to a topic to discuss it at the same level as students who have already studied the topic in depth or who are intellectually more mature.
  9. Failing to redirect students back to the ideas at hand when the discussion strays off topic.
  10. Asking a student to speak for or represent a group of people, especially if that group is in the minority in the class or at the University.

Have suggestions?

If you have suggestions of resources we might add to these pages, please contact us:

ctl@wustl.edu(314) 935-6810Mon - Fri, 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.