Communication: How to Lead a Good Discussion

In any group, discussion can be a hard thing to lead.  However, if you keep in mind a few things, the discussion will flourish and bring your lesson to life.

Most of the lessons you find on are geared toward interactivity. Sometimes this comes in the form of an object lesson, a game, or another hands-on learning method. But interactivity can also take shape centered around conversation in the form of discussion.

To lead a good discussion, always keep in mind the following:

1. Silence is Golden
Some teachers get very nervous when they ask a question and the room goes quiet. But when you’re leading a discussion, sometimes you need to just let the silence linger.  This does a couple of things: it demonstrates that you actually want discussion, not a lecture; it gives the students time to think; it reveals to you the types of students you have (their depth of thought, the talkers vs. the non-talkers, etc.).

2. Don’t Ask Yes or No Questions
Sometimes, when establishing the text you are studying a right or wrong answer is okay, but in general, if you really want to get conversation going, opinion questions are better. There’s a difference between asking, “What did the blind man do when Jesus healed him?” and “Why do you think the blind man did what he did when he was healed?”

3. Affirm Participation
If someone chimes in don’t criticize their remarks. Nothing quiets a crowd faster than a critical leader. Be careful to use affirming non-verbal communication, too.

4. Involve Everyone
Sometimes it’s helpful to have an “everyone answers” question. These can be basic opinion questions, even funny discussion starters. Go around the room and have everyone respond, even if it’s with a short answer. This breaks the ice for everyone and makes them more likely to answer deeper questions later.

5. Give Individual Attention
Each participant in your discussion will discuss differently. Some will be very quiet and you may need to call on them or ask “what do you think?” Some will tend to dominate the discussion. You can simply say, “I appreciate your input. What do the rest of you think?” Or, if a particular student becomes too dominant week-to-week, you can let the student know, outside of class, that you welcome his or her responses, but he or she needs to be conscience of others' participation as well.  Recognize that each student reveals something about themselves in these situations. Why are they shy? Why do they answer every question? What makes them have a story for everything? Do they have a low self-image? Are they attention seeking? Be aware of each individual and treat them accordingly.

6. Don’t Trump Everything
Often, as teachers, we actually do know more about what we’re discussing than the students. However, there is no need to demonstrate that. Which is more valuable, telling a student something or having them discover it on their own? Allow students to struggle with ideas before giving them the answer. Ask follow-up questions when something sticks out as relevant, even if it’s not in your lesson plan. Give students room to discover truth independently of your teaching. When they teach themselves, it tends to “stick” a lot better.

7. Maintain Control
Although you are leading others in discussion, you are the leader! Never let things get out of hand.  Steer things back on track when they get way off course. Never allow students to get into heated arguments. Under no circumstances allow one student to intimidate or make fun of another. As the leader, it’s your job to keep the conversation flowing in a safe, productive way. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but if you master these seven points you’ll be well on your way to leading a more effective discussion. Remember that lecturing is valuable, but only when the application of that content is discovered through interactivity. Good discussion requires no supplies, extra space, or preparation. With a good batch of questions and a few simple hints, your lessons can come to life in new and exciting ways for your students.

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