Ten Ways to Start a Discussion [From "The Dreaded Discussion: Ten Ways to Start" by Peter Frederick, Improving College and University Teaching, Vol 29, No. 3.]

  1. Goals and Values Testing: Students pair off and decide together what they think is the primary value of the particular text for the day, and how their consideration of it meshes with course goals. VARIATION: have pairs list relationships between this text and another. Make instructions explicit: "identify three themes common to both texts" or "suggest the two most obvious differences between the two texts"
  2. Concrete Images: go around table and ask each student to state one outstanding concrete image/scene/event/moment from the text. No analysis, just recollections and brief description. List images on board. As a follow-up, study the items and look for emerging themes, the connection between images, patterns, missing elements.
  3. Generating Questions: ask everyone for their questions about the text. Various methods can be used for generating and collecting questions, as well as bringing the questions into the discussion.
  4. Finding Illustrative Quotations: ask each student to find one or two quotations from the assigned text that he/she found particularly significant (liked/disliked/best illustrates major thesis/difficult to understand/key symbol/etc). Read aloud and discuss.
  5. Breaking into Smaller Groups: to discuss various issues. Keep instructions clear and simple and task-oriented; vary ways groups are formed; vary ways in which groups report out when reassembled.
  6. Generating Truth Statements: decide upon three statements know to be true about a particular issue.
  7. Forced Debate: force students to select one or the other of two opposite sides and defend their choice. Ask them to sit on one side of the table or room or the other to represent their decision. Ask why they have chosen to sit where they are. Invite students to feel free to change their place during a debate if they are so persuaded. Perhaps allow a middle for students who refuse to chose one side or the other.
  8. Role Playing:
  9. Non-Structured Scene-Setting: Stay out of the discussion, provide a prompt (slide, quote, tape recording) and allow students discuss.
  10. Ask "How did you Like It?"