Activities for Panel Discussions in the Classroom

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A panel discussion in the classroom is a technique to teach students to work as a group. It is also designed to improve skills of research, logical organization of ideas as well as the ability to present these thoughts clearly and effectively. It can be used in middle schools, high schools and colleges, but topics should be adjusted to the levels and interests of the students.

1 Preparation

Hold a class meeting in order to prepare for the panel discussion. Explain the format of this kind of presentation. Ask the students to suggest topics that they would like to have discussed. These can range from social studies topics, school problems, literary characters in a book recently read or anything else that interests them. Place these topics on the chalkboard and have the students vote on the selection. The teacher should ask for volunteers for participants in the panel. The teacher should then select four or five students who would like to appear in front of the class and share their research on the topic selected by the class as well as their personal opinions.

2 Organization

Select a moderator. Divide the topics to be discussed among the participants, giving each member a different aspect for research. For example, on the topic of "The George Washington Administration," the subdivisions might be: events that led to his being elected president; historical events that occurred during his presidency; major accomplishments during his term; and how his period would compare to the present.

Each member prepares individually. Instruct the other students to do some research on the topic and come prepared with questions to ask the panelists.

3 Research

For middle schools, a class visit to the school library to become familiar with the research materials might be appropriate. The panelists will have to do more research than one class period, but this will make it easier for them and will enable the rest of the class to prepare for the questions.

4 Additional Preparation

The panelists should prepare handouts with the important facts to be covered as well as a bibliography. They should prepare visuals with charts, graphs, pictures and video clips to be used to supplement their presentations. They should also put their major ideas on index cards to be referred to while delivering the speeches. Practice is always appropriate.

5 The Panel Discussion

The class is now ready for the presentation. The panelists should remain seated even while speaking. They should, however, speak loudly and clearly, with good audience eye contact. The moderator introduces the speakers who give their presentations. The members of the audience ask their questions and the panelists respond. The moderator then summarizes the program.

6 Evaluation

Assign the students to do further research and write a paper discussing the main ideas brought out in the presentations. Where do they agree and where do they disagree? What suggestions do they have for the individual panelists to improve in the future? The teacher should then give feedback and suggestions for improvement for future presentations.

Based in Bellmore, N.Y., Shula Hirsch has been writing since 1960 on travel, education, raising children and senior problems. Her articles have appeared in "Newsday," "Mature Living," "Teaching Today," and "Travel News." She holds a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University and is a retired professor of English.