Notes from the Student Caring Podcast for Professors

Teaching Techniques for Today’s Students
SC 163 How to Lead a Good Discussion


In the syllabus for Prof. David Pecoraro’s classes:

Discussion is a valuable and inspiring means for revealing the diversity of opinion that lies just below the surface of almost any complex issue. Although there are many ways to learn, discussion is a particularly wonderful way to explore supposedly settled questions and to develop a fuller appreciation for the multiplicity of human experience and knowledge. To see a topic come alive (The emphasis is mine) as diverse and complex views multiply is one of the most powerful experiences we can have as learners and teachers. In a discussion where participants feel their views are valued and welcomed, it is impossible to ween class sessions. – Stephen D. Brookfield 

Difficulties that we encounter:

  • You have to know where your discussion will be going before you begin or the topic will wander.
  • Our students struggle with the lost art of conversation. Daniel recommends: Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle.9781594205552
  • Most of our students know how to speak, but not necessarily converse.

How can we prepare our students for a good discussion?

  • Prepare the students for the upcoming discussion by putting them into smaller groups and give them some questions to think about. Have them write down their answers. This is followed by an all class discussion.
  • Establish some ground rules that work for you.
    • When someone is talking, you can’t talk over them. (We are also teaching our students how to listen.)
    • Whatever your opinion is, it is safe to express. “Can we all agree to that?”
    • You may disagree with the professor as long as you articulate why you disagree.
    • Always support your opinions.
    • Everybody speaks once before anyone speaks a second time.
  • The professor can act as a secretary, one who does not comment, rather moderates.

Discussions can go bad when students are not prepared with the reading or topic.

  • You need to make sure they are prepared before the discusssion.
  • One way is to ask the student to leave if they have not done the reading. (You could have a time-out!)
  • Set up a discussion board on the course management system ahead of time.
  • A key to success: Write engaging questions.

How to close out a discussion.

  • At the end of a discussion, don’t end the class. End with a reflection on what has been discussed and learned. “How were your opinions challenged?” “What perspectives do you now have?” Ask your students to write their answers down for the beginning of the next class.

Professor preparation for a discussion.

  • Take some time to pre-determine outcomes:
    • Here is where I want the discussion to go.
    • Here are the 3 things I want them to cover.
    • I want my students to get to a certain point by the end of the discussion.

If you are new to discussion teaching – FEAR NOT. Just begin and continue to fine tune as you go forth.



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Next: Teaching in the lab.

We welcome your comments, feedback and guest post submissions.

Email:  General Information   |   Prof. David C. Pecoraro

Thank you!

Daniel & David


SC 163 How to Lead a Good Discussion

If you are concerned about making tenure or getting hired as a full time professor, this book is for you.