Checklist for successful class discussions

It may seem like your students never stop talking — until you try to start a class discussion! Then… the dreaded silence.

Careful management of discussions is key to avoiding those awkward silences. We at Kialo Edu have put together a class discussion checklist to help you maximize discussion opportunities in your classroom.

Step 1: Ensure that the discussion has a good set-up

Success begins with properly setting up the discussion. This gives students a clear understanding of the discussion parameters from the outset.

Set a clear discussion goal by framing the discussion

Start by setting a clear goal to help frame the discussion. This may include asking students to solve a problem, reach a judgment, or make connections between ideas. 

Then, choose the right discussion question. While a closed question limits discussion opportunities, a question that is too open-ended can result in an unfocused discussion. Using the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy can help you create questions that promote discussion.

Set a time frame to maximize activity time

One lesson may be sufficient, or the discussion may form part of a longer-term project. Whatever the projected time frame, holding discussions online can maximize the time available, as little preparation is required. Educators can also easily monitor student contributions and provide targeted feedback.

Step 2: Ensure students are communicating well during discussions

The goal is for all students to communicate confidently within discussions.

Create ground rules to set boundaries

Work with students to create ground rules for discussion. Once there are clear boundaries in place, everyone can feel more confident in communicating their ideas, particularly when focusing on controversial topics.

Break down discussion questions to focus student contributions

Open-ended discussion questions can be daunting for some students. Breaking questions down into manageable steps allows students to focus on key points and structure their contributions.

Provide students with these questions prior to the discussion and ask them to research the relevant topics. This way, students will be able to generate ideas and find supporting evidence in advance, leading to more confident communication.

Step 3: Ensure students are collaborating during discussions

Collaboration within discussions allows students to develop active listening and questioning skills and explore multiple perspectives.

Choose the collaboration mode most appropriate for your students

Students might prepare for discussions individually, and then collaborate as a class to work toward the goal. Alternatively, educators may group students into teams. Each team could work on their own version of the same discussion, or explore a different aspect of the topic.

Ensure successful collaboration through allocated roles

Grouping students of similar abilities allows them to challenge each other in discussions, whereas mixed-ability groupings allow students to learn from each other. Grouping by confidence level, on the other hand, can maximize discussion participation and prevent more confident students from monopolizing the conversation.

Make collaboration purposeful by allocating students specific roles within teams. Roles could include researcher, fact checker, spokesperson, and summarizer. This will help to ensure all students are active in the discussion.

Step 4: Ensure that students are engaged during discussions

The next step to a successful discussion is to engage students. Even a carefully organized discussion can suffer from tumbleweed moments, if students are not fully engaged!

Plan warm-up activities to get students comfortable talking

Get students comfortable sharing their opinions with ice-breakers, such as debating whether kids should be allowed to eat ketchup or whether pineapple belongs on pizza, before they dive into the main discussion.

Some students may require additional support to engage with a topic, even after warm-up activities. Here, it can be useful to have students generate some initial ideas at the beginning of the discussion. Sharing these ideas with the class can act as a prompt for struggling students, helping to engage them in the rest of the discussion.

Structure the debate to keep discussions focused

To maintain engagement and keep discussions focused, provide a structure for the discussion. Begin with starter claims and ask students to develop related sub-claims, supported by sources. As the discussion progresses, students will be able to see how their ideas fit into the overall discussion structure.

Step 5: Ensure content retention by asking students to review and summarize discussions

By now, classroom discussions should be flowing! So, it’s time for our next step: summarizing the discussion.

Hold regular summaries to review learning to meet lesson objectives

Holding regular short summaries throughout discussions helps to ensure students are on track to meet the intended goal. This is especially useful when pupils are working in teams, as students with the role of summarizers can take center stage to share the main discussion points so far.

To close discussions, hold a final summary. Recap key points using notes from the discussion to check students’ understanding and address misconceptions. Summarizing will allow students to review and internalize their learning.

Take your classroom discussions further with Kialo Edu

Take some inspiration from Kialo Edu’s range of ready-made debate topics categorized by age and curriculum subject to facilitate an engaging discussion with your students — particularly great for remote learners!

Here are some reasons why it’s great to have your next class discussion on Kialo Edu.

Feature #1: Clear structure to visualize arguments and reasoning

The argument mapping structure of Kialo discussions can support students in visualizing their arguments.

The argument-mapping structure in Kialo discussions provides a clear structure for effective communication. Students are able to visualize the discussion and see where their ideas fit in. 

If students have to speak on a topic, the argument map can help students to plan contributions and consider opposing viewpoints.

In verbal discussions, educators can also use the argument mapping structure to keep a record of key points by adding notes to it as discussions progress. This could then be used for a summarizing activity.

Feature #2: Easily put students in groups to work on discussions

Encourage collaboration by putting students into Teams to work on a discussion. To customize discussions according to your students’ needs, educators can create distinct discussions, allowing each team to focus on a different aspect of a topic.

Alternatively, educators can use the Clone and Invite Wizard to allocate teams their own version of a discussion.

Feature #3: Have Anonymous Discussions to encourage student participation

Using Anonymous Discussions, students are able to write and respond to claims under an anonymous username that’s known only to the teacher. This helps shyer students to make honest contributions without the fear of attracting attention from their peers.

What’s more, anonymous discussions can serve as a planning tool prior to verbal discussions. Students can gain confidence through experimenting anonymously with ideas to see how others respond, making them more likely to engage in the subsequent verbal discussion.

Using our checklist to plan and facilitate class discussions can help to maximize students’ learning by ensuring that discussions are engaging and productive.

We would love to hear how you have used the checklist in your classroom. Contact us at feedback@kialo-edu.com, or on any of our social media platforms, with how your class discussions went!

Check out even more teaching strategies to help you empower your students with the skills they need for discussion success!

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