Leading Discussions: Tips from a Junior-Faculty Workshop

Yesterday’s first junior-faculty workshop of the academic year, “Leading Effective Discussions,” led by Gina Frey, drew faculty from disciplines ranging from business to music and physics to think through the challenges and opportunities of classroom discussions.

True to its topic, the workshop took the form of a lively discussion. We brainstormed in small groups and then reconvened as a larger group to offer insights and questions from our own teaching experiences. Questions and topics raised included how to best approach wrong answers, how to manage large class discussions, how to generate more participation in classes of all sizes, and how to most effectively have students lead small segments of class discussions.

Throughout, Gina provided structure to the conversation, as well as strategies that deepened our thinking about the objectives and implementation of discussions for classes of all sizes.

The following is a sampling of the useful tips discussed during the workshop:

  • From the start of the semester, establish community rules that include the understanding that learning and articulation is a messy process. (This strategy helps with the next tip!)
  • Use discussion to model thinking processes and encourage students to think aloud.
  • Provide students with a homework assignment that provides examples of how to write discussion questions; have a subgroup of the class send their questions a few hours before the class session and then use some of their questions during the class session.
  • Ask questions that prompt different ways of thinking and learning.
  • Create a class template for activities that “re-set” students attention every 10-15 minutes.
  • At the start of each class, use strategies to help “cement” the group, such as asking students to share good news.
  • At the conclusion, include time for summarizing, or asking students to summarize, the key ideas discussed.