Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Teaching Tip: Organizing Discussions

We have long known that discussion improves retention and encourages higher-order thinking. But it makes sense that so many students say that they prefer lecture. They have succeeded by regurgitating accurately, and lectures usually provide the organization that memory requires, while even fascinating discussions can seem directionless. One student told me last week that she judges the quality of a class by the clarity of its outline in her notes.

Even if we reject the banking model, students are not wrong for wanting organization. Informing students of goals for a discussion begins to provide that structure. This means that we need to be able to say what we want from a discussion — besides participation.

Just as we talk about course goals at the beginning of the term, we might specify goals at the outset of a discussion. As a literature teacher, my aim in discussion is often to give students practice in analyzing and evaluating passages from the readings, one of the larger goals of my courses and something I want from them in their essays and exams. Too often, I have simply launched into my discussion questions, without explaining why.

Of course, students must learn to structure information on their own. Asking them to write reflectively about the discussion, using something like the one-minute paper we mentioned last month, can be a start. We might ask students to respond in writing to the most interesting comment by a classmate. Or we might ask them to suggest three “takeaways” from the discussion.

As before, we want you to send us tips, too. (We loved the ones some of you sent us last time.) What makes your discussions work?

Read more on this and other aspects of discussions here:

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