Facilitating Discussion

PWR classes rely heavily on in-class activities and student participation.  Each day will likely feature a mix of small group, large group and individual activities. 

Small-group work 

As with small-group work, you should plan carefully for class discussion:

  • Schedule whole-class discussions when approaching a new writing assignment or when a majority of the students fail to understand a concept.  When possible, incorporate a writing activity (or some kind of immediate application to the students’ essays) that focuses the students on what you want them to take away from the discussion.
  • Consider a small-group activity that prepares students for the whole-class discussion, such as asking small groups to work on a problem together before you tackle it as a whole class.
  • Good class discussion means that the students are doing most of the talking.  This principle is a hard one to adopt: study after study shows that teachers do the overwhelming majority of the talking and take the largest number of “turns” in class. 
  • Try for a balance in the discussion, not letting one or two students dominate and aiming for as much participation and engagement as possible.  You may need to call on students in order to achieve this balance, or to assign discussants to lead the class.
  • Use questions carefully.  They can help keep students on track in a discussion, but students quickly perceive when an instructor is asking a question to which he or she has a pre-ordained “right” answer.
  • At the beginning of term, take responsibility for summing up the discussion, for highlighting similarities and differences of informed opinion, and commenting on the quality of the students’ discussion.  As the term progresses, students can share this responsibility.
  • Always consider how the discussion is serving the ends of a writing class (and make this clear to your students).
 

Instructor Examples

  • Former PWR instructor Rob Stephan put his PWR 1 students into small groups and asked them to consider what rhetorical strategies they'd use to communicate ideas from academic scholarship to different audiences. See Rob's "Addressing Audience" activity to learn more.

See also: IWIK - Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Talk About: Facilitating Full-Class Discussions between Students (Canvas log-in required)