Places to Go NextEstablishing Ground Rules
Setting Learning Outcomes
Teaching Small Discussion Sections
"A scientist's aim in a discussion with his colleagues is not to persuade, but to clarify."
- Leo Szilard, Austro-Hungarian Physicist
- Allow instructors to assess student learning through performance.
- Make learning active.
- Help build community.
- Allow students to learn about and evaluate different positions and receive feedback on their own.
- Enable students to participate as co-constructors of knowledge.
- Provide opportunities to develop conventions of discourse within a discipline.
- Can expose students to complexity and ambiguity in a supportive environment.
- Allow students to synthesize and integrate new knowledge.
- Develop studentsí ability to articulate ideas and meanings clearly.
- Enable students to work through complicated ideas and concepts collaboratively.
Discussions provide opportunities for students to achieve the following learning objectives (Nilson, 2010, p. 127-128):
- Examine and alter perspectives, beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors.
- Explore new topics with an open mind.
- Think critically.
- Solve problems.
- Listen actively.
- Communicate orally.
- Apply knowledge to new situations.
- Retain course material.
- Desire to learn more about a subject.
- Involve students in a discussion on the first day and explain the value of discussion to your course.
- Communicate your expectations for participation. If grading participation, explain clearly how you will do this. Use a rubric to illustrate what a good contribution to a discussion looks like.
- Use icebreakers to increase students' comfort level with each other.
- Consider how you will structure smaller discussion groups.
- Use a visual aid to help direct discussions in larger classes, and instruct students to refrain from sitting in certain rows to allow you and your TAs to circulate and guide students as needed.
- Clarify the difference between debates and discussions to students. Discourage the need to reach a consensus, and encourage students to explore possibilities and present evidence to support their points.
We offer many online resources and address common questions relating to facilitating effective discussions on our Teaching Small Discussion Sections page.
Davis, B. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Nilson, L.B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Svinicki, M.& McKeachie, W. J. (2011). McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and univeristy teachers. (13th ed). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.