Let’s Chat: Keeping Students Engaged via Class Discussion

health science curriculum

Let’s chat! Class discussion is effective in keeping students engaged, if you can keep the conversation going. So why do so many teachers minimize class discussion time or exclude it altogether?

There’s no discussion in my class discussion.

We all know that you can lead the horse to water… But how do you get students to participate and contribute to class discussion? It likely won’t happen overnight, but by setting a precedence of importance to class discussion, students will soon be clued in that participation is critical. How? Make class discussion an important part of your lesson plans. Do it regularly. Give students participation grades…not the 2 points that will get them from the 79% to the 80% at the end of the semester, but REAL points that make an impact on their overall grade. And, be sure to include important points from class discussion on assessments.

Anything can happen in my class discussion.

To some extent, that is true. Class discussion means that the CLASS has some control over where the lesson goes. And with all the other distractions going on in the classroom I’m asking you to give up even more control. To minimize irrelevant tangents and to keep students on the learning highway when they’re trying to take the scenic route, jump in and redirect. And when the scenic route looks promising, be sure to allow them to wander a bit. Provide questions ahead of time and ask students to prepare for discussion. You can be specific. To make sure everyone participates, assign different questions to different students or groups of students.

What if my class discussion fizzles or fails?

Yeah, it’s probably going to happen. Initially, class discussion probably isn’t going to be on your students’ list of favorites. But stay positive. If you are in the least uncomfortable with it, they’re going to smell your fear. Have a few new and interesting and thoughtful questions to ask. Encourage students to ask questions. Allow students to use their smartphones or tablets to find answers and share from their different sources. If a class discussion completely bombs, move on to something else…but don’t give up on it. Remember, you have to establish class discussion as routine and relevant and fun. Ask students to suggest topics for future class discussions. Students will get the hang of it after several attempts.

My inspiration today? This article in Edutopia that includes strategies to motivate students to participate.

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One Response

  1. Kristin says:

    One of my favorite classes, the first 10-15 minutes was always a discussion. We could talk about anything that had to do with the class. We’d discuss a news story, a billboard someone saw, an incident on a TV show, a brilliant new movie or book that tied into our topic. We all started getting excited enough to think outside of class (yup! I said it! Thinking outside of the classroom) about the things we were seeing and the ideas we could bring back to the discussion the next day. In fact, I can personally say I consciously started looking for them. Engagement. And as a group, as we got more confident and comfortable, the discussions improved. I’ll never forget some of the topics we discussed in those first 10 minutes.

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