Leading a Discussion

Prep time: This depends on the topic of the discussion and what you feel would enhance the discussion.  If you are talking about the 2012 elections, you might want to collect campaign information, newspaper and magazine articles, cartoons and pictures of candidates and election-related events. 

Materials:  visuals or other materials related to the topic of discussion.

Prep:  Think carefully about how you want to present the topic or how you would phrase the question or questions you pose to the group, in order to avoid expressing any bias.  You could also use a graphic organizer to present a variety of opinions on a topic and then ask the group to respond.


1) Have a discussion about discussions!  Ask the students: What is a discussion?  What is the goal of a discussion?  How is a discussion conducted?  How do you feel about discussion? 

2) The next step is to establish ground rules.  Elicit ideas from students.  In most cases, this conversation results in rules like these: 

  • Only one person speaks at a time.
  • Everyone participates, both in listening and in speaking.
  • Don’t interrupt when another person is talking.
  • People can ask each other questions.
  • Everyone’s opinions and ideas are respected by the group.
  • Disagreement is allowed.  If you disagree, it doesn’t mean you don’t like the person.

Also, talk about the role of the tutor or teacher.  Will the tutor lead the discussion?  Will a student lead the discussion while the tutor observes?  How and when will error correction happen, if at all?

3) Post these rules in the classroom for ongoing reference and possible revision.

4) Before any discussion begins, students need to understand what is being discussed and why.  Writing the topic on the board in large letters can help focus the discussion. Periodically review the discussion process itself.  If certain students aren’t participating or others are dominating, go back to the ground rules.  Are changes needed?

6) Give students a few minutes to think about and organize their thoughts.

7) Set a time limit.

If the class is multicultural, there may be, despite the agreed-upon ground rules, some cultural differences that come into play in the group dynamics.  These problems won’t go away quickly and need to be addressed with understanding and patience.  The tutor or teacher plays an important role in fostering a comfortable and accepting environment by being a non-judgmental, respectful listener, even when you don’t personally agree with the opinion being expressed.

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