How to Make Group Discussions & Interactions Work in the Classroom

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Many college instructors use lecture as the primary method for imparting information to students during class. Some, however, use group discussion to involve students in the topic. Proponents of group interaction in learning propose that discussions help students see different perspectives on a topic. Discussions also help develop habits of collaborative learning. An effective instructor plans ahead for group discussion. Decide whether the discussion will be with the whole class or broken into smaller groups. Plan on blending discussion time with your lecture or block out time for discussion toward the end of class.

1 Arrange the seats to maximize interaction

Arrange the seats to maximize interaction. A circle or horseshoe arrangement allows eye contact for the students with each other during a discussion. Allow students to move their seats in small circles for groups of three to five for small group discussions.

2 Lay out ground rules for

Lay out ground rules for the interaction. Allow a person to finish her sentence before answering. Be respectful of each other's opinion. Listen to each other with both your eyes and ears.

3 Give specific topics or questions or for the discussion

Give specific topics or questions for the discussion. Vague topics lead to shallow discussions. Giver different questions on a topic to each small group. Have a member of each group report to the class what she discussed.

4 Give at least 20 minutes for students

Give at least 20 minutes for students to discuss a topic if you are blocking the discussion time. Prepare plenty of questions, however, to ensure the time will be used effectively.

5 Ask questions

Ask questions that will generate good discussion. Guide the interaction with focused questions which can have more than one answer. Avoid questions that can elicit one-word answers.

6 Involve the whole class

Involve the whole class. Breaking the discussion into small groups helps with this. Turn the discussion away from those who dominate the discussion with a simple statement like, "Let's hear from someone we haven't heard from yet" or, "What does the rest of you think about this?"

7 Ask specific students

Ask specific students at different times what the most interesting points of the discussion have been. This can help clarify or redirect the discussion, and reengage students whose attention may be slipping.

8 Allow for moments of silence

Allow for moments of silence. Effective discussion leaders allow for periods of silence at times after a question has been asked to give students time to process and think. Brief periods of silence can actually keep students' attention better than an instructor who talks over the silence.

  • Ask students to respond to questions posed to you as the instructor during class. This engages students to teach each other.

Greg Stone began writing professionally for various websites in September of 2010. He lives in Branson, Mo. and is the marketing director for Doulos Discipleship of Doulos Ministries. Stone holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Central Missouri University and a Master of Ministry from John Brown University.