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Discussion Formats and Activities

Circle of voices | Critical debate | Jigsaw | Posted dialogue | Rotating stations | Snowballing | Think-Share-Pair | Three-step interview | Numbered heads together | Roundtable | Generating truth statements | Brainstorming | Workshop

Circle of voices:

Students form groups of about 5 members. Groups have 3 minutes of silent time to consider the topic. Each group member has 3 minutes of uninterrupted time to discuss the topic. Then, members may react to the comments that have been expressed.

Critical debate:

Find a contentious issue on which opinion is divided amongst participants. Frame the issue as a debate motion. Propose the motion to participants. By a show of hands ask people either to volunteer to work on a team that is preparing arguments to support the motion or to volunteer to work on a team that is preparing arguments to oppose the motion. Announce that all those who have prepared to work on the team to draft arguments to support the motion will now comprise the team to draft arguments to oppose the motion. Similarly, all those who have prepared to work on the team to draft arguments to oppose the motion will now comprise the team to draft arguments to support the motion. Conduct the debate. Each team chooses one person to present their arguments. After initial presentations the teams reconvene to draft rebuttal arguments and choose one person to present these.

Debrief the debate. Discuss with participants their experience of this exercise. Focus on how it felt to argue against positions you were committed to. Ask participants to write a follow up reflection paper on the debate.


Generate a short list of topics within the concept you are teaching. Each student becomes an 'expert' on one of those topics, first by herself and then in discussion with other experts. Later these student experts become responsible, through dialogue, for helping non-experts to become as knowledgeable as they are. For example, a class of 25 students works on five topics. Each student decides which of these 5 topics she wishes to become expert about. She spends time before or during class studying her topic in order to develop the required expertise. Students who have selected the same topic gather in a small group to raise questions, explore misunderstandings and discuss what they have learned. When students feel they have finished pooling the insights they gained in the course of becoming expert, new small groups are formed that include expert representatives for each of the original topics. Each student expert takes a turn to lead the others in a discussion of their particular area of expertise. These small groups end when all members of the group express satisfaction with their knowledge and understanding of all of the topics covered. Sometimes the exercise ends there - other times it extends to a large group summing up.

Posted dialogues:

Small groups summarize their conversations on large sheets of newsprint, transparencies or chalkboards. Individual members of the class are then free to wander about the room reading all the responses and adding comments.

Rotating stations:

Locate each small group at a station where they are given 10 minutes to discuss a provocative issue and record their ideas on newsprint or a chalkboard. When this time is up the groups move to new stations in the classroom where they continue their discussion, based on the ideas they encounter from the previous group. Rotations continue every 10 minutes until each group has been at all of the positions and has had a chance to consider all of the other groups' comments


Students begin this activity by responding to questions or issues as individuals. They then create progressively larger conversational groups by doubling the size of their group every few minutes until by the end of the activity everyone is reconvened in the large group.


The teacher poses questions to the class, where students are sitting in pairs. Students silently think of a response individually for a given period of time, then pair with their partners to discuss the question and reach consensus. The teacher then asks students to share their agreed-upon  answers with the rest of the class.

Three-step interview:

 Divide four-member groups into two pairs: A and B, C and D. In step 1, A interviews B while C interviews D. In step 2, reverse roles: B interviews A while D interviews C. In step 3, share-around: each person shares information about his/her partners in the group of 4.

Numbered heads together:

Each student in the group is given a number from one to four. The teacher poses a question, issue, or problem. Students talk this over within the group and prepare to respond. The teacher then calls upon students by number to represent the group.


The teacher poses a question having multiple answers, or gives each group a worksheet. The group has only one piece of paper or worksheet, and perhaps only one pen. A student writes down one response, says it aloud, and then passes the paper or worksheet to the person on the left. The process continues in this way.

Generating truth statements:

Groups of about four students create three endings to open-ended statements (e.g., "It is true of advertising that . . ."), then choose one or more to share with the class.


Students offer responses to a posed question or issue within a given amount of time. The teacher (or other leader) keeps track of all responses, preferably on a chalkboard or poster. No criticism or elaboration is allowed until the brainstorming period concludes.


 During a workshop, time is allotted for students to work on and/or prepare for a specific task. The instructor is present to answer questions and to work with students as necessary. Workshops may also be used for the instructor to introduce and discuss new skills that students will need to use at a later time.

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Copyright 2006 Drs.Cavanaugh  Last modified: March 06, 2008