Traditionally, students have not always enjoyed their school experiences for one reason or..
When we choose to begin improving classroom discussions, the reasoning is usually clear: for better learning. Classroom discussions are meant to be lively and collaborative, after all.
They should be times where authentic learning happens through sharing healthy debate and meaningful discoveries about what you're covering. Ultimately, it's about connecting learners to topics in ways that are dynamic, stimulating, and creative.
There are lots of ways of improving classroom discussions that make sense for engaging your learners. We've chosen a few below for you to begin implementing right now. Liven up your talks with learners quickly and easily with these suggestions.
7 Ways of Improving Classroom Discussions
- Incorporate movement
- See connections
- Use reflective questions
- Let students process
- Give students the floor
- Tell stories
- Debrief the discussions
- Incorporate movement—This is as simple as having students stand up and walk around, like mingling at a party. On the other hand you can also use full-on scripted movement sessions as in a theatre or movement class. During this process you'll facilitate to ensure relevant topical conversations are taking place. Other than that, let them get their blood flowing with some movement.
- See connections—Real learning can happen when you switch up the surroundings. For this reason, it's a great idea to change the scenery and take learners for a short excursion as part of your discussion. Talking about litter and pollution can mean showing them how much trash in the schoolyard gets ignored. A discussion about art and creativity can mean a local gallery walk, or even a visit to a Year K class. Whatever the case, giving learners a solid point of real-world reference can really drive the point of your discussion home.
- Use reflective questions—Reflective learning involves brain-stimulating questions you can share periodically in discussions of all kinds. Says Tara Kuther, Ph.D., "the simplest way of using active learning techniques in the classroom is to ask reflective questions. Not yes or no questions, but those that require students to think."
- Let students process—Oftentimes, especially as new teachers, we assume silence means death to a conversation. Not so; in fact it's the opposite with improving classroom discussions. It can be more active than letting learners simply pause and reflect, too. For example, encourage them to write down questions they have or personal insights they've formulated during these pauses. Additionally, they may also have some ideas as to where the discussion could go next.
- Give students the floor—What about having one or two students lead the discussion themselves? A great way of improving classroom discussions by making them more personal is having students take the lead. As we mentioned in this article on student-led assessment, this teaches real responsibility for learning and also leadership. The student in charge may even ask questions that you may not think of asking.
- Tell stories—Connect your discussion to a relevant story, a humorous anecdote, or a local news event. Ask students questions about the topic that helps them form connections such as, "Has this ever happened to you?" or "Where else have you seen this happen?"
- Debrief the discussions—Part of improving any experience or process is the all-important debrief. As you may expect, this also applies to improving classroom discussions. You and your learners can succeed in this together by being truly open with each other about how group discussions can be made better. Ask questions in your debrief like these:
- Overall, how are you enjoying our discussions?
- Do you feel they are beneficial to our learning quests?
- What do enjoy most about them? What do you enjoy least?
- How can we use these insights to improve our discussions?
All in all, improving classroom discussions is easy, but it takes time. The key is making sure that learners feel their opinions are valued, that their time is well-spent, and that they are excited about having that next discussion.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published May 17, 2018, updated October 21, 2021