of all ages love discussions. We discuss various subjects of
interest with our family members, friends, colleagues and schoolmates
everyday. This ability to communicate with one another is a
gift from God. Imagine how dull life would be if we were to
keep our opinions and thoughts to ourselves without the ability
to share them with one another. Even animals have some form
of communication among themselves.
In the context of education, most students would remember
(perhaps with mixed feelings) being engaged in discussions
either in the classroom or in discussion groups they belonged
to. As students meet together in groups to discuss topics
and issues related to the lecture or topic, the process of
exchanging ideas and information fosters camaraderie. Thus,
discussion groups are cherished because they appeal to our
basic need for a sense of belonging and affiliation. As a
teaching/learning method, classroom discussions (unlike the
lecture mode where the spotlight is often on the lecturer
alone) are participative in nature. The absence of discussions
does not only imply that the course is taught through a monologue
with the lecturer as the sole performer, but also that student
interaction—another value of engaging students in discussions—is
Hence, classroom discussions, if planned and used carefully
devised for our lessons, could achieve the following objectives:
- promoting active student enquiry,
- stimulating students’ interest in the subject,
- enabling students to share their knowledge with others
through active exchanges of viewpoints.
However, conducting classroom discussion does not mean turning
the class into a chat room. In order to maximise the time
allocated for lectures and other classroom activities, it
is important to plan carefully, how and when to conduct the
discussion in each lesson. Being clear about the intended
purpose or objective of the discussion (e.g. is it used as
an ice-breaker at the beginning of a class, as a follow-upto
a case study or reflective exercise?) will help the lecturer
to plan the type of questions, topics and format. With proper
planning, the lecturer can avoid creating an impression that
discussions are mere ‘fillers’ used to fill the
extra pockets of time (in a lecture or tutorial), which may
be more productive if used for other learning activities instead.
In addition to preparing the materials and questions for
discussion, it is important to brief student leaders on how
to facilitate the discussions. The Socratic method of encouraging
and stimulating the expression of thoughts and ideas through
probing questions and scenarios is a useful method.
Time management is another important factor in discussions.
Discussion sessions should start and end punctually and not
eat into the time allocated for lectures or other learning
activities. There must be adequate time for the group to summarise
and present their discussions via the leader or a representative,
using visual materials like flip charts or transparencies.
In addition, the lecturer must do a quick debrief of each
group’s presentations accruing from the discussions.
It would also be worthwhile to commend the discussion leaders
and the group for their efforts and enthusiasm because this
could motivate the students to participate in future discussions.
I see discussion as a useful tool to develop the facilitators’
leadership especially in meetings and other group activities.
At the workplace, those who can confidently lead discussions
have attributed this ability to their active participation
in various discussion groups in school.
Though the discussion method is a highly participative tutorial
activity, it can cause conflicts if it spins out of control.
Thus, when discussing a sensitive topic which may provoke
heat (e.g. arguments and controversies), the lecturer should
be ready to intervene if the discussions go off-tangent. The
challenge is to know how to encourage every individual in
the discussion group to participate actively. Dominant or
passive members in the group could also cause problems: the
lecturer would therefore have to play the role of a gatekeeper
to hold-off those who are too aggressive in putting forth
their ideas and encourage especially the quieter ones to speak
Notwithstanding some of the problems, discussion as a form
of tutorial activity generally promotes goodwill and friendship
among students. I normally get my students to seat themselves
differently for each class, and to form pairs or groups with
their neighbours for discussions. Students enjoy sharing and
learning from one another. The discussion groups and activities
are foundations to spur and encourage active communication
between students. Such communication skills could be assets
to future teamwork and group project work. Thus classroom
discussions, though challenging to implement, complement the
other learning activities in the classroom.