Documentation:ISW/Lesson Plan/Theme Session/Online/Leading Discussions

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This online module uses the ISW BOPPPS model as a lesson planning framework.

Online Module

Time to Complete

30 minutes

Learning Objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • Identify one challenging moment that might arise during a classroom discussion
  • Develop two strategies for classroom discussion which will help overcoming or avoiding the challenge you identified




Tips on Leading an Effective Discussion

In most classes there will be a variety of students with different skills and experiences. Help all of your students develop the skill of articulating their ideas within the context of a class discussion by trying some of these approaches:

  • Let student reflect on their own before starting a group discussion. This allows students to articulate their ideas and confidence of having something written down.
  • Use small groups. Pair students, group them in threes or fours, and let them develop answers to the questions/content/material. This gives more students a chance to discuss in a comfortable, less intimidating setting. It also supports students to familiarize themselves with each other.
  • Use different strategies for the grouping depending on your goals - planned groups, spontaneous and random groups and student-determined groups.
  • Ask questions that students feel invested in answering. Whenever you can, relate questions and contextualize them in ways that speak to students' own background knowledge/experience. ("ie. How many of you have done X? You can draw on this experience as we work on topic Y today because... ")

Repeat and Rephrase Questions

Provides an opportunity to recognize the student's contribution: "ie. That's an excellent/great/perceptive question.... Everyone, here's what Jennie asked. Jennie, tell me if I understand your question correctly: If we embedded the chain rule in the quotient rule in this example."

  • Ensures the question students ask is answered ("Did that answer your question Jennie?).
  • Brings all students into the process and often prompts more questions from others.

Remember Students Names

Familiarize yourself with students' names. They will appreciate it!

  • Use name tags to help everyone to address each other by their names
  • Print out the Class List with pictures to help remember
  • Ask students to state their names for everyone to remember
  • Make a joke if you get it wrong/confuse names

Allow students who are shy to submit class discussion to you through e-mail/writing

  • Encourage them to share their contribution with the class.
  • Introduce the idea to the class (without necessarily) naming the student. (" ie. I thought Jennie brought up a good point regarding environmental protection laws. Would you be willing to share this with the class tomorrow?")
  • Validation builds confidence.

Value students participation

  • Explain why participation benefits learning (e.g.: "By sharing ideas, we can all learn more efficiently and can acquire insights we may not have had access to otherwise")
  • Outline expectations (ie."its not about quantity but quality of participation")
  • Recognize diversity of learning (ie. "Some students need to talk to develop their thinking, others need to reflect to arrive at new conclusions" OR "Some students are able to understand the lab activity ahead of time by reading the textbook, while others learn better through doing").
  • Summarize the quality of participation at the end of a lesson (i.e.: summarize the process through which ideas and solutions were acquired through individual work, partner work and/or group discussion)
  • Acknowledge contributions ( ie. "Brandon moved our discussion in a new direction. Thank you.", "Helena's point is well-taken. How does this affect the outcome?", "Sarah provided us with extra time for discussion since she set up the equipment")

Structure and prepare discussions

  • Ask students to bring questions from readings or to pre-outline lab procedures or calculations
  • Ask students to write short response papers (in a lab context, you may ask students to note down predictions for steps in an experiment)
  • Plan group composition (ie. identify who works well together, who distracts each other etc.)
  • Ask students to lead and facilitate a topic or a component of an exercise (ie. rotate so that not the same people always lead)

Support students to listen to each other

You are the best example.

  • Listen with attention and rephrase your understanding.
  • Ask another student to rephrase questions what was said.
  • Practice highlighting the most relevant aspect of a students' contribution and re-linking back to the topic, even if some aspects of their comment are not on point

Talk less and facilitate more

Students should be doing most of the work. You provide the instructions, equipment and support to allow students to engage and work through a concept or exercise.

  • Try to draw the key points out of each response.
  • Facilitate general statements and focus them towards specificity. (ie. "Great, Jennie--it's clear that you don't feel this was a good decision. What would have done in their place?", "That's a good observation, Tomas, can you give me another example?")

There are no wrong questions

Students worry about being right/wrong.

  • Take away students anxieties by acknowledging that mistakes are part of learning. For example, in a lab context, even a mistake can allow learners to rule out options and move toward the most appropriate steps.
  • Correct mistakes by turning them into a learning opportunity. (ie."I can see how that would make sense to you, Jolene. For a long time people thought this nutrition plan would lead to optimal health. Can anyone help us out on what the recent research has uncovered?"

Improvise and Adapt

  • Have "Plan Bs" ready to go.
  • Think on the Fly
  • Create simulations or case studies (ie. "A model United Nations", "What would happen to the rest of the exercise if we switched this component?")
  • Read a relevant passage from another text or show an image or equation which pertains to next weeks' discussion and exercises.
  • Create two circles (if your room allows, if not--get creative). One group is in charge the discussion, then switch.

Adapted from


Please take a few minutes to provide your thoughts below in the reply comment box, on the following questions:

  1. What was one way the instructor in the video hindered rather than helped the discussion?
  2. What are two strategies for leading a classroom discussion that would allow the facilitator to overcome or avoid the incident you identified?

Once you have posted your comment, take a look around at other participants’ posts. Respond to at least one person’s post.

Go Further

Module Credits

This module has been designed by the Graduate Student Facilitators at the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) at UBC-Vancouver