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Discussion: Research and Resources

Discussion: Research and Resources

Using the in-class exchange of ideas and opinions to stimulate critical thinking.


Class Discussion - Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology, Illinois State University

Great information on many common topics such as: posing questions, encouraging response, generating discussions on class readings, suggestions for classroom discussion, and ice breakers.


Brookfield, S.D. & Preskill, S. (1999). Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Each chapter moves through deep reflections and practical techniques for preparing for discussion, getting discussion going, keeping discussion going, grouping, and attending to individual differences and diversity.

Davis, B.G. (2009). Discussion strategies. In Tools for Teaching, 2nd Ed. (pp.95-132). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Concrete suggestions for effective ways to lead discussion, encouraging participation, managing discussions online, asking questions and fielding student questions.

Finkel, D.L. (2000). Teaching with your mouth shut. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers.

A humbly-toned and thoughtful collection of reflections, strategies and techniques for meeting students at their level of interest and ability.

McKeachie, W.J., & Svinicki, M. (2006). Facilitating discussions: Posing problems, listening, questioning (pp 35-56). In McKeachies" teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. New York, NY: Houghton-Mifflin.

Drawing from both theory and classroom experience, this chapter offers a rich collection of insights and practical suggestions for the discussion facilitator.


Bluestone, C. (2000). Feature films as a teaching tool. College Teaching, 48(4), 141-146.

Offers a broad rationale for using feature films in teaching along with practical points on their use. Discusses active learning and critical thinking, film's ability to reflect psychological reality and the broader socio-historical context, feature films in other disciplines, connected learning and student diversity, and applications in an urban community college.

Bucy, M.C. (2006). Encouraging critical thinking through expert panel discussions. College Teaching, 54(2), 222-224.

The author describes a structured format for engaging students in meaningful discussion through prompting students to assume the viewpoint of well known "personalities" associated with a given topic. The authors suggest that this teaching activity:

  • Improves student involvement in discussions
  • Creates greater interaction between students in discussion
  • Encourages critical thinking through exposure to multiple perspectives on issues and examining assumptions underlying arguments

Connor-Greene, P. (2005, June). Fostering meaningful classroom discussion: Student-generated questions, quotations, and talking points. Teaching of Psychology, 32(3), 173-175.

This article describes the Question, Quotation, and Talking Point (QQTP) method to facilitate class discussion. This technique involves the student generating a question from the assigned reading, picking a quotation that prompts discussion, and preparing several talking points for adding to class discussion. Using a student rating questionnaire of this method, the author found that:

  • The highest ratings for helping students prepare for class discussions were in generating a question and preparing talking points
  • The QQTP method enhanced student understanding of class materials
  • The QQTP was an effective method for preparing students for class discussion

Ezzedeen, S.R. (2008). Facilitating class discussions around current and controversial issues. College Teaching, 56(4), 230-236.

Provides guidelines for instructors when facilitating class discussions, especially in regards to potentially divisive issues. The author describes ten principles for creating a discussion that engages students and promotes learning. These topics include:

  • The physical setting and class arrangement
  • Recognizing and overcoming initial student resistance to discussion
  • Using grading to support discussion
  • Understanding student differences
  • Choosing relevant topics
  • The role of the instructor in discussions

Garside, C. (1996). Look who's talking: A comparison of lecture and group discussion teaching strategies in developing critical thinking skills. Communication Education, 45(3), 212-227.

The author conducted a study to investigate differences in critical thinking skills between learners watching a lecture as opposed to participating in a discussion. Questions asked of participants after the lecture or discussion were separated by Bloom's taxonomy into lower order (knowledge, comprehension, and/or application levels) and higher order (analysis, synthesis and/or evaluation). Results indicated that:

  • No significant differences between methods in increasing critical thinking overall.
  • Both methods produced gains in critical thinking from pre- to post-test assessment.
  • The group discussion format produced higher gains in higher-level critical thinking skills compared to lecture format (average gain for higher level critical thinking skills = .96 in group discussion vs. .56 for lecture format).

Guiller, J., Durndell, A., & Ross, A. (2008). Peer interaction and critical thinking: Face-to- face or online discussion. Learning and Instruction, 18(2), 187-200.

The purpose of this study was to determine whether face-to-face versus online discussion formats produce higher levels of critical thinking using a sample of undergraduate students. Results indicated that:

  • Higher levels of critical thinking were present in the online discussion versus face-to-face formats. The authors posit that this finding was the result of students having more time to reflect on what they would say in the online format.
  • However, results indicated that both modes are complimentary of enhancing critical thinking and should be incorporated together. That is students who first engaged in the face-to-face discussion and then switched to online discussion format showed increases in critical thinking skills that was not evident in students who participated in the treatment conditions in the reverse order.
  • Thus the authors suggest that a series of discussions across time, first in face-to-face format and then online format may be optimal for promoting the development of critical thinking.

Johnson, D., Johnson, R. & Smith, K. (2000, January/February). Constructive controversy: The educative power of intellectual conflict. Change, 28-37.

This article not only describes the method of Constructive Controversy but also provides evidence of its effectiveness when compared to lecture and overall group discussion. In Constructive Controversy groups of four, two students are assigned to "pro" side of a position and the other two are assigned the "con" side. Each pair researches the material necessary to produce as strong an argument for their side as they can. Once each pair is done, their roles are reversed. Finally, all four must synthesize a statement that they feel best characterizes the issue and produces a position statement for the group, based on their own best judgment.

Meacham, J. (1994). Discussions by e-mail. Liberal Education, 80(4), 36.

The author describes procedural issues (e.g., how much participation the instructor should engage in the email exchanges, rules of information exchange, etc.), the degree to which students participated, and two central problems associated with this format of discussion (e.g., students who do not check email frequently). This strategy offers one way to engage large classes in meaningful discussion.

Wade, R.C. (1994). Teacher education students' views on class discussions: Implications for fostering critical reflection. Teaching and Teacher Education, 10(2), 231-243.

The purpose of this article was to investigate what factors encourage students to participate in class discussions. Survey results indicate that:

  • Students recognize the benefits of contributing to discussions and acknowledge learning more when they participate
  • Students often lack confidence in presenting their ideas
  • Students are often afraid of potential criticism from others, however, they enjoy sharing their ideas
  • Students voice the need for sufficient class time to have an in-depth discussion
  • Ideal class discussion occurs when most students are participating and there is respect for multiple ideas about a given topic
  • The authors state three ideas to increase participation: 1) Choose an appropriate topic, 2) Create an atmosphere of caring in the classroom, and 3) Provide students the chance to prepare for the discussion