Classroom Discussions

Dear Colleagues,

It is heartening to know that many of you are integrating classroom discussions into your course in order to enhance more active student learning.

The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning’s website is an excellent resource for those of you who want to use more classroom discussions.

Some basic recommendations from this website include:

  • Prepare a structure – Because class discussion can be less controlled, instructors should have clear expectations for themselves and for students about topics to cover. Instructors might develop several key big-picture questions to ask at the beginning of class and have groups answer by the end of class. Part of a solid discussion structure also includes explicit details defining participation and grading.
  • Regulate the discussion – Instructors should feel free to insert themselves into conversation in order to keep conversation on track. Students especially appreciate this tactic when a few students monopolize conversation. After ensuring that groups are functioning well, instructors can invite especially talkative students to continue conversation after class or in office hours.
  • Address inequity in participation – Instructors should be aware when students of particular gender, race, class, or abilities are systematically marginalized in class. Instructors can refer to inclusive class climate for strategies to ensure that all students are enable to participate. To this end, instructors can set ground rules for discussion in the syllabus, or invite students to help formulate class rules.
  • Give quieter students time to answer questions – Instructors can consider strategies for ensuring that students have time to formulate answers, and that quieter students have alternative opportunities to enter discussion. In class, instructors can allocate a few minutes for students to think about their answers to a question, and then have them discuss with a partner (see think-pair-share above). Additionally, instructors can email out a worksheet with key ideas which students should be prepared to define or explain in class, or a list of conceptual terms and ideas for students to chew on before and after class.
  • Model active listening – The behavior of an instructor plays a huge role in the tone of a class. Instructors should regularly show appreciation for student comments, substantively responding to them by fleshing out good ideas and pushing back on flawed arguments. Additionally, instructors can encourage students to build on each other’s ideas.

There are excellent links on Yale’s website including:, which is Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly Center Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation.

This website has a particularly good overview of the types of questions to ask during discussions.

If we can assist you with implementing discussions in your class, please feel free to contact me to meet with you by appointment.

Questions or comments?

Jim O’Connor