Active Discussion Techniques
Classroom discussions are powerful opportunities to engage students and get them to think critically. However, discussions are often dominated by just a few students while the rest of the class sits back and passively listens or “checks out” completely. Research has shown that millennials learn best through social learning and working in groups. So how do you get students to talk to each other? How can you ensure that all of your students are involved in the learning activities? This workshop will provide you with several techniques that you can use immediately to get students interacting with each other and your course content.
Active Discussion Techniques Interactive Module
Active Discussion - October 2018
Active Discussion Handout
Students don’t answer questions or participate in discussions for many reasons. This may be because they are shy or self-conscious, they don’t understand the question, they think the question is too obvious or they just need more time to think.
When this happens, WAIT! Give students a little more time to think. Then use one of the strategies:
When this happens, WAIT! Give students a little more time to think. Then use one of the strategies:
- Cold call
- Pick a student to call on someone
- Rephrase/repeat the question
- Break down the question
- Write/Display the question
- Ask students to write an answer
- Give a lifeline
- Group/Pair students
- Playing Cards
- Numbers/Letters/Colors/Shapes/Content Relevant Categories
- Ask them to get in groups
- Assess your classroom community – do students feel comfortable enough to answer?
- Evaluate your questions – are the questions too complex or too obvious?
- Use scenarios / case studies – how can you ground your concepts in a real situation?
- Incorporate movement – how can you change the environment or energy with movement?
- Have students do a pre-writing activity
- Ask them to predict
- Ask them to recall their prior knowledge on the subject
- Have them elaborate on the subject
- Display the question on the board/projector
- Provide context
- Find the sweet spot between too simple and too complex
- Use a scenario/case study
- Ask students to think before answering verbally
- Have students write their answer on a piece of paper or an index card
- Tell students how long they have use a timer
- Talk in groups
- Write on whiteboard
- Google Docs
- Ask for volunteers
- Cold call
- Have each student share out
- Group by group
- Have each group add 1 new idea
- Whiteboard stations
- Jigsaw group
High Energy Active Discussion Techniques - August 2018
Active Discussion Techniques Handout
11 Active Discussion Techniques
- Gallery Walk https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/speaking-listening-techniques/
Students create a presentable project, poster, or artifact that they then showcase to the rest of the class. Break students up into groups (adjusting for class size). Select one group to present first. Send each member of the first group to different parts of the classroom and have them set up their presentation (if necessary). Then the remaining groups each stand and walk over to a designated member of the first group so that each group is with a different member of first group. The first group members then present their presentation or artifact to the group in front of them. When the presentations are finished, each of the non-presenting groups moves to the next member from the first group and the first group members present their presentation or artifact again to the new group. Repeat until all groups have viewed all of the first group’s presentations. Then select another group to present and repeat the process again.
- Concentric Circles (Onion Rings) https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/speaking-listening-techniques/
Prepare a list of questions about a topic. Arrange or move desks accordingly to allow enough space for movement. Have students make two circles, an inner and an outer, facing each other. Read off a question and allow students 1-2 minutes to discuss with the student facing them. When the time is up, implement a signal, such as a clap, a bell, or turning the lights off, and have the inner circle move to the left so that each student is facing a new partner. Then repeat with the next question. A variation of this technique could be for students to create questions beforehand and ask and answer their classmates’ questions.
- Speaking Line
Prepare a list of questions about a topic. Arrange or move desks accordingly to allow enough space for movement. Have students stand and create two lines facing each other. Ask a question and give students 1 minute to talk to the person across from them. When the minute is up, give a signal and each student should take a step to the right. The students on either end of the speaking line should step forward and turn around to face their new partner. Then repeat with the next question.
- Speed Dating
Prepare a list of questions beforehand or ask students to come up with questions they have or that are related to the topic. Arrange or move the desks so that there are two chairs facing each other on either side of each desk/table. Have students count off into two groups (1s and 2s). Then have all the ‘1s’ sit at the desks. The 2s each sit at a desk opposite a 1 and discuss or answer questions with the 1s. After 1 minute, give a signal and the 2s move to the next desk opposite a different 1 and repeat the process with the next question.
- Conver-stations https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/speaking-listening-techniques/
Create a list of questions and cut out the questions so each has its own strip of paper. Tape or post these questions in different parts of the classroom so that there is some space between them. Using different walls usually works well to ensure there’s enough space between the stations. Put students into 3-5 groups. Send each group to a station with a question. Have each group discuss and answer the question at their station. After a minute or two, give a signal and have each group move to the next station and repeat. For larger classes, duplicate the stations so that you will have two separate sets of stations that students will visit.
- Snowball Discussion https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/speaking-listening-techniques/
Prepare a list of questions or topics to discuss beforehand. Ask students to work in pairs to answer and/or discuss the questions. Then ask pairs to join with another pair so that they make groups of fours. Then ask the new groups of 4 students to share what they talked about as pairs and compare their answers/discussion. Then ask the groups of 4 to join another group of 4 so that they make groups of 8s. Then ask the new groups to discuss again. Depending on the size of the class, you may want to continue this to 16 or even 32. You can also give pairs different questions so that each pair will bring their own question and discussion to their newly formed larger groups and get new perspectives on their own questions as well as the questions from the other groups. You can also present new questions for each new grouping i.e. presenting the pairs with one question, then another question to the groups of 4, then another to the groups of 8s, and so on.
- Four Corners http://minds-in-bloom.com/10-classroom-discussion-techniques/
Label the four corners of a room: strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree. Pose a question or idea to students and have students go to the corner that reflects their viewpoint. Have students discuss with others with similar viewpoints in the corner and then ask for a volunteer to share out to the rest of the class. You can label the corners according to skill or grasp of the material. For example: got it, understand, don’t understand, no idea. Then pair those who have a good grasp of the topic with those who are struggling and ask a question or pose a problem for the pairs to solve. You could also use this as a jumping off point for jigsaw groups where after students state their opinions on a topic, mix up the groups to include one student from each category to form new groups. Then ask them to explain their points or pose a new question or problem.
- Whiteboard Stations
Set up mobile whiteboards or designate space on whiteboards around the room for different groups. Put students into groups and give them a task, problem, or question to discuss. Students then write down their group’s answers to the question. Then have a volunteer from each group share out. Alternatively, you can make this more active if you give each group a specific question or problem to solve. Then once each group has solved their own problem or answered their own question, they move to the next whiteboard and see the question and answer of the other group. Then they answer the question themselves or say whether the agree or disagree with the answer the previous group came up with and why. Repeat and share out when groups have visited each space and written their answers. You could also have groups come up with questions and have the other groups answer part of all of the questions each group created.
- Throw the Ball https://www.edutopia.org/blog/make-class-discussions-more-exciting-richard-curwin
Prepare a list of questions and bring a ball (preferably soft) to class. Throw the ball to a student and ask them a question when they catch it. The student then throws the ball to another student who must say if they agree or disagree with the answer and why. Then the student throws the ball back to the teacher. Repeat. Alternatively, you could use the ball as a “microphone” and let students pass the ball around the room to each other, only permitting the person with the ball to speak.
- Jigsaw Groups http://minds-in-bloom.com/10-classroom-discussion-techniques/ and https://www.jigsaw.org/
Prepare a list of questions or problems beforehand. Group students by assigning each a number (e.g. 1,2,3,4). Then give each group a question, problem or part of a bigger question or problem. Ask them to discuss and or research to find a solution. Then assign each student a letter (e.g. A,B,C,D). Then put students into new groups based on the letters. Have each member discuss their group’s problem and solution and ask for new perspectives and ideas from the other members of the new group. Then ask groups to share.
- Chalk Talk http://pulse.pharmacy.arizona.edu/11th_grade/industrialization/language_arts/chalk_talk.html
Prepare a list of questions beforehand. Break students into groups of 4 or 5 (depending on the size of the class). Have students stand in front of the whiteboard. Pose a question or have them written out beforehand. Students then take turns writing their answers or opinions about the question or problem and can comment in any order and as many times as they want. However, NO ONE can speak. This is a silent activity. Encourage students to draw lines and arrows to show what they are commenting on or answering so that the final result looks like a branching tree or web. Then allow students to share vocally with the class about what their group discussed.