English EN
home / For educators / Pedagogical approaches / Active learning / Discussions in the classroom

Discussions in the classroom

Why are discussions an essential part of the toolbox for learning about the complex and sensitive issues we are dealing with? We want to encourage our learners to consider both the emotional and intellectual aspects that play a role in society when discussing human relations. But we also want them to consider their own personal positions.

Shannon Hancock has been testing Stories that Move at the International School in Amsterdam: “We found that our students were engaged in the activities and that the discussions were rich and open. One learner remarked: ‘The tool is a nice way of uncovering complexity within our way of thinking and judging. I liked how we looked at prejudices and how it affects how we see people and the world around us.”

In the learning paths students are first asked to formulate their own thoughts on key questions. These can be collected in a ‘tag cloud’ – a digital representation of all the learners’ answers. A tag cloud can form the basis of small group or class discussions.

There are no simple or ‘right’ answers to give our learners. They need to discover for themselves why people have different opinions and feelings about identity and in response to discrimination. A well-managed discussion can trigger self-discovery. Discussions have been shown to be a great way to get learners engaged.

As the facilitator of the discussion, you need to have a clear picture about the goal of the discussion – but stay open to surprises.

If learners are not used to open discussions, establish some general rules first. Try asking the learners to set their own rules, which should include things like listening carefully, respecting other viewpoints, taking turns and not interrupting someone who is speaking.

Learners who understand how the topic and questions to be discussed are relevant to their lives will be more motivated to join in. Learners should also become aware of the benefits of participating in lively discussions: they practise forming their own opinion and expressing it in front of others, they learn to listen to and respect other points of view.

If a discussion seems dull or slow to get going, a provocative question or statement from you might do the trick. And then: give the discussion time to evolve.

Group discussions are often dominated by the ‘usual suspects’. One way to draw in others is to ask everyone to write down one thought and then invite the quieter ones to read their statements out first. This way, their voices are present from the very beginning and it will be easier for them to speak out again.

If a learner says something discriminatory, try to find out where this opinion is coming from by engaging in a dialogue. However, it is also important – for this particular learner and the ‘bystander’ learners – to send a clear message that you do not agree with the opinion and why.

Make a visible list of bullet points that come up during the discussion (on flip chart, white board etc.). It structures the process and triggers new thoughts.

back to top