Large- and small-group discussions are designed to help students
think and express their ideas, which is essential for fostering critical
thinking skills. Large-group discussion work well if your goal is to be
sure all students hear and contribute to a shared, common set of
concepts. Small-group discussions work well if your goal is to increase
participation in a discussion.
- Effective discussions result from effective questions and thorough
student preparation. Take time to write the questions carefully, making
sure they are specific and thought-provoking. Think about the
outcomes—what do you want students to know and be able to do as a result
of the lesson? Your questions should evolve from and circle back to
- Help students prepare for the topics to be discussed, either through common background reading or other sources of information.
- Set a tone that encourages a free exchange of ideas and respect
among students. See the suggested ground rules in the section on discussing and exploring controversial issues.
- It is probably most natural and easy for you to ask questions and
for students to address their answers to you. However, one of your goals
should be to encourage students to discuss their ideas with each other.
Think of yourself as a facilitator rather than the center of attention.
Encourage students to ask each other questions, follow up on points
their classmates made, and to look at one another instead of you. You
can facilitate this peer-to-peer discussion by arranging your classroom
in a way that allows for eye contact between students. For example,
students are more likely to exchange ideas amongst themselves in a
circle or U-shape. If students are talking in small groups, be sure
their chairs or desks face each other.