The English Teacher

Effective Discussion

Discussion Tips

1.) A teacher can not have effective discussions if the class has not read the material. One has to allow the average class time to read the material... and the average class 'in the real world' may not do much homework. So therefore in-class time may have to be allotted to students to read the material in order to have meaningful class discussions. Some students become adept at listening to other students' comments and making a general comment sound relevant to the subject being discussed without themselves first having read the material. Then the teacher expends energy trying to fit these students' comments acceptably and supportively into the discussion when the student and much of the rest of the class knows that the teacher is being misled. The teacher wonders why the students don't understand the material that seems so clear. It would be clearer to the students if they had read it.

2.) The teacher's choice may be to allow students the time for reading the material to be discussed, or to become angry and stressed at those who didn't read the material and those with unsuitable answers.... or to not have discussions.

3.) When a class discussion has too much 'energy' and everyone wants to talk at once, not just with each other but to become heard by the teacher, a teacher has several choices. One is to simply listen to each student in turn until everyone has had their turn.

4.) However, sometimes a discussion needs to keep moving because the teacher has a goal to reach by the end of the class period. If a teacher does need to move the discussion on, then when everyone wants to answer, the teacher, instead of calling on students to participate, could ask them to write their comments [call them ideas rather than comments] on paper, and then call on two or three to read their comments, and then ask the next question. Then students who don't get to have their 'say' on the first question will realize that they may get the chance on the next question.

5.) Note: there are several stages in teaching a class how to have discussions. A class may start out simply talking to each other. Then they have to learn to be quiet when someone else is talking. Then they can learn to take turns. After they learn to take turns, they enter the stage above where they are willing to take turns, if their turn is soon, if not first. The 'write down your ideas' technique above can get students used to the fact that they may not be able to answer every question and also they may become aware that other class members may also have good ideas, perhaps even better ideas.

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