Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Instructional Methods > Discussions
Class discussions can motivate students while also helping them retain knowledge and develop effective problem-solving abilities. This page offers resources and strategies for facilitating productive discussions in face-to-face classrooms and online discussion boards.
In January 2010, Jane Baxter (Anthropology) and Ruth Ter Bush (Computing and Digital Media) presented a Teaching Commons workshop titled "Classroom Discussion as a Skill, Not a Technique."
In this workshop, Jane Baxter presented a case for students to understand discussion as a skill that must be learned like any other. Jane added that good class discussions often start with the instructor communicating the purpose of discussion and what constitutes a valuable addition to a discussion. Jane does this early in the quarter by communicating tips and standards for discussion (as seen in slides 7-18 of
her presentation) and in her handout “Standards for Discussion,” which she also gives to students.
Ruth Ter Bush added considerations and ideas for creating engaging discussions in a multicultural group (slides).
Jane Baxter recommends a few tips for getting students to participate in discussion:
In McKeachie’s Teaching Tips (1999), McKeachie offers some reasons why students don’t participate, “boredom, lack of knowledge, general habits of passivity, cultural norms-but most compelling is a fear of being embarrassed” (p. 54). McKeachie offers the following tips for alleviating this fear:
Brookfield, S.D., & Preskill, S. (1999). Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for a Democratic Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
"Effective Classroom Discussions." The IDEA Center's Paper No. 49 offers detailed recommendations on how to improve classroom discussions.
"Leading Dynamic Discussions." University of Washington Center for Teaching and Learning.
"Leading Effective Classroom Discussions on Controversial Issues." ProfHacker Blog,
Chronicle of Higher Education.
Teaching Critical Thinking Through Online Discussions. EDUCAUSE Quarterly 4, 38-41.
McKeachie, W. (1999). McKeachie's Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers (10th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Nilson, L. (2003). "Leading Effective Discussions." Chapter in Teaching at its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. Second Edition. Bolton, MA. (Available for loan from the Office for Teaching, Learning and Assessment)
Rotenberg, R. (2005). "The Discussion Classroom." Chapter in The Art and Craft of College Teaching: A Guide for New Professors and Graduate Students. Walnut Creek, CA.
"Ten Strategies for Effective Discussion Leading." Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University.
Online DiscussionsLearn how to use D2L's Discussions tool to facilitate online, asynchronous conversations.Learn More
Learn how to use D2L's Discussions tool to facilitate online, asynchronous conversations.