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Discussion Strategies

Getting a discussion started

Sentence completion:
What impressed me most about the reading for today was…
The question I’d most like to ask the author is…
The idea in the reading that I most disagree with is…
Quotes from reading:
The passage in the reading that I agree with most is…
The quote from the reading that I disagree with most is…
Illustrative quotes:
The quote that best illustrates today’s concept is…
The quote that best exemplifies my viewpoint on this issue is…
Hatful of quotes:
Each student selects a slip of paper from a container. Slips have ideas, passages, ideas or other statements related to the topic of the day. Each student must respond to the statement on his or her slip.
Open-ended questions
Ask how, why. Have students compare the relative merits of something or to consider how well something fulfills its function. Have the students bring their own list of questions

Helping students try various conversational roles

Problem, dilemma or theme poser:
Introduces the topic of conversation
Reflective analyst:
Records the conversation’s flow, offering a periodic summary
 Listens for suggestions and needs, records them and reviews them at the end of the discussion so the group may decide an action plan
Devil’s advocate:
Expresses a contrary view to group consensus
Listens for unexplored biases, and brings attention to them
Theme spotter:
Identifies themes needing time at the next session
Listens for personal judgments in order to enforce ground rules

Helping students develop conversational skills

Assign conversational moves for participants to try

Express interest in someone’s comments
Encourage someone to elaborate on his or her comments
Explain a link between the comments of two people
Make a contribution that builds on someone’s comment
Paraphrase someone’s comment
Summarize several comments
Ask a cause and effect question
Ask for time to think about a comment
Express appreciation for what you’ve gained from the discussion
Disagree with a comment in a respectful and constructive way

Keeping a conversation going

Resist responding to student comments yourself. Become comfortable with silences during class discussion, and wait while a student formulates an answer. Remember that good discussion is based more on responses than on reactions. The difference between a reaction—which is intuitive, instinctual, instantaneous, gut-level—and a response—which is well-considered, thoughtful, deliberative, analytical—is a matter of seconds. Help students respond to one another using conversational roles.

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Drs. Cavanaugh 2001

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