Framing the Discussion

To an observer, effective discussions can look seamless. A question or two seems gets the conversation started, and students take it from there, sharing insightful perspectives, building on each other’s ideas, succinctly articulating the instructor’s key takeaways, all in perfect time. But the “behind-the-scenes” work to frame a discussion -- creating a space where daring, student-centered conversations can flourish; being clear about discussion objectives; asking the right, generative questions -- requires significant up-front planning.

What steps can we take in advance and in the moment to facilitate rich and objective-driven discussions? How can we keep up with a dynamic conversation while guaranteeing our objectives are met? When should discussion call for small groups instead of the whole class? How can students themselves play a role in framing the discussion? In these videos, featured professors discuss their approaches to ensuring they get the most out of discussions and focus them meaningfully.

What does the research say?

  • A series of well-planned guided questions can facilitate the development of critical thinking and enable students to gain deeper conceptual understanding (Peterson, 2009)
  • Pollock and colleagues found higher levels of participation in small group discussions compared to large group discussions.  Furthermore, previous academic achievement and ethnic background had less of an influence on participation in small group discussions (2011).

Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (1999). Discussion as a way of teaching (Vol. 85). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Chapters 3 and 4 of Getting the Discussion Started, provide an overview for how to plan and start a discussion (p. 42-82)

Christensen, C. R. (1991). Education for judgment: The artistry of discussion leadership. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

In chapter 9, Christensen explores questioning, listening, and response (p. 153-172), components critical for the execution of a successful discussion course

McKeachie, W., & Svinicki, M. (2013). McKeachie's teaching tips. United Kingdom: Cengage Learning.

Chapter 5 in McKeachie’s teaching tips, provides guidance about how to help students prepare for a discussion (p. 40-41) and how to get a discussion started (p. 41-45)