Resources for Educators

Teaching Tip

From the Teacher’s Aide Newsletter

2019 February

Stop Doing This Discussion Technique!

We suggest you adjust your classroom discussion questions a bit, to encourage more participation and increase the quality of your discussions.

Here’s a mistake that many teachers make: When you ask a question in class, you immediately call for volunteers or call on students cold.

But when you do this, you always get the same students who answer, don’t you? And you know what happens… none of your other students even think seriously about giving you the answer because they know someone else will. In fact, they know if they wait long enough, you will just answer your own question. Also, when you call on someone specific, to avoid the students who always have the answers, you may be creating anxiety in that student who really needs time to prepare their answers before they tell you.

So, here’s what to do instead:

  1. Ask your question and give students some time to think to themselves about the answer. You may even have them write down their ideas.
  2. After the appropriate thinking time, have a few students report on their ideas.
  3. Then, randomly call on other students to share their thoughts as well.

If you make this a common practice, most students will try to come up with a response to your questions, so they don’t look bad when they finally get called on. And you will likely get better responses because you gave them time to think.

Now, to avoid groupthink when a topic is likely to get similar responses from all your students, be ready to adopt the opposing viewpoint and make several good arguments. This will help students stretch into critical thinking mode, to come up with better arguments for their own ideas.