How to Have Effective Discussions with Your Students
Are the classroom discussions you have with students effective? Do they engage students and help them further explore a topic or issue? For many educators, having a successful discussion with students can be a struggle because the conversation often doesn't take off as they had hoped. If you're looking for ways to make your classroom discussions more effective, here are a few tips that can help you get started:
1. Encourage Everyone to Contribute
Classroom discussions will fall flat if only a few students are participating. Encourage everyone to contribute by finding ways to give students equal opportunities to talk:
- Using randomization techniques and asking the students talking to pass the discussion to another student (effectively allowing the students to control the discussion) are both great ways to encourage participation in classroom discussions.
- Arranging the room in a way that allows students to see each other during a discussion is also helpful. If your room is not arranged this way, ask students to sit in a circle on the floor or rearrange seating in order to allow for this.
2. Start Off with the Right Questions
A great discussion starts with great questions. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you make a list of questions to ask students:
- Ask open-ended questions or questions that may not have a single correct answer.
- Ask students to justify their responses. A quick "Why do you think that?" can push a simple answer into a more complex discussion.
- Ask a variety of questions. The University of Michigan has a great resource you can use to start exploring the different types of questions you can ask students.
- Even though you should use variety, avoid planning questions to go in a sequential order from lowest level to highest level. This can make a discussion dry and predictable.
3. Ask Students Relevant Follow-Up Questions
The simplest and most organic way to turn a teacher-directed question into a discussion is through the use of follow-up questions. Here are some ways to do this:
- Clarify their answer: "Can you tell us more about this?" or "What from the reading makes you think that?"
- Argue their answer: "How can you convince us of this?"
- Offer a different perspective: "What would you say to someone who thought differently?"
- Make it personal: "How would you handle this situation if it happened to you?"
4. Don't Use Discussion Killers
To have effective discussions with students, there are a few things you must avoid:
- Trick questions
- Questions with obvious answers
- Yes or no questions
- Not giving students enough time to respond
Browse our Elementary section for a variety of resources and teaching tools that can help you have effective discussions with your students. You'll also find a wide selection of family engagement resources, classroom literature, educational technology, and other materials you can utilize in the classroom.