Structuring Actions: Classroom Discussion Strategies

One of the first things we usually teach students in Introductory Sociology classes is the idea that our actions are structured (the basic “roles, norms, values” etc. stuff) and classroom discussions can be an integral part of this teaching and learning process – encouraging students to think about what they’re learning and developing their knowledge and skills by exchanging ideas with others in a similar situation.

Unfortunately, if you’re anything like me, all the important “structure and action” stuff tends to go out of the window when it comes to actually managing discussions – and it can be frustrating when you fail to ask questions that open-up discussion or, worse-still, end up having an exchange of views with the loudest, most-opinionated, students while the rest of the class twiddle their thumbs (or, more-likely, surreptitiously text their friends).

Luckily, someone like Jennifer Gonzalez has thought more deeply than me about this problem and actually done something about it – the upshot of which is “15 formats for structuring a class discussion to make it more engaging, more organized, more equitable, and more academically challenging”.She’s also very kindly classified the strategies into three groups and posted them on her website for the world to explore:

1. Higher-prep strategies that involve some pre-planning by the teacher.
2. Low-prep strategies that can be used whenever an opportunity for discussion presents itself.
3. Ongoing strategies – opportunities to use discussions as part of some other instructional technique.

On the website you’ll find a brief outline of each strategy plus links to materials (text, video) that allow you to dig deeper into the ideas underpinning the strategy.

PS. If you’ve got your own favourite way of managing classroom discussions please feel free to share it with the 1,000’s* of other teachers who read this blog by posting a comment.

*This might be an exaggeration for discussion purposes.

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