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Examples of discussion starters

Here are some suggested techniques for stimulating discussion.  Please send your own ideas.

  • Free writing at beginning of class.  This technique simultaneously provides accountability on whether students have done the reading but also gets them thinking about topics they would like to discuss. Submitted by Jenny McErlean, Siena College.
  • Reinforcement Strategies.  Darby Lewis is the author of a very entertaining books called Portrait of the Student as a Young Wolf, that tries to deal with student motivation issues in terms of behavior modification techniques.  The TΦ101 does not own a copy of the book yet, but did hear a presentation by Professor Lewis. Here was one idea: Lewis assigns a points for class participation, with a maximum of two points per day.  She comes to class with a bag of poker chips, and whenever a student makes a high-quality contribution, she gives the student one poker chip.  For the next participation, the student gets a second poker chip, and has thus received maximum credit for that day.  Those students then tend to hold back a little to let other students get their poker chips.  She says it really works.
  • Plus, minus, question mark, lightning bolt.  A good way to help students summarize material after completing a text, by asking them to think about things the liked about the text, things they disagreed with, questions they still have, and things that the text made them think about.  Submitted by John Immerwahr, Villanova University.
  • Structuring a discussion in stages.  Maughn Rollins Gregory argues that discussion is most productive if it moves (loosely) through a series of structured stages, which are known in advance to the students.  The faculty member's job is to guide the students to move through these stages. The stages are: (1) Identify Issures Relevant to Purposes; (2) Formulate and Organize Relevant Questions; (3) Formulate and Organize Hypotheses in Response to Questions; (4) Clarify and Test Hypotheses in Dialogue and Confirm, Revise or Abandon;  (5) Experiment with Hypotheses in Experience and Warrant, Revise or Abandon;  (6) Implement Warranted Hypotheses.   The article gives detailed guides on how to facilitate these discussions. "Facilitating Classroom Dialogue." Teaching Philosophy.  30.1 (2007): 59-84.    

Update: September 3, 2008

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