Discussion Facilitation

A successful discussion invites students to participate fully. Since students possess a variety of experiences, beliefs, understanding, and biases largely unknown to the instructor, the prospect of facilitating a discussion can be daunting. The guides in this section demystify discussions by helping instructors to prepare the classroom for productive engagement and to employ charged moments as opportunities to inquire and learn.

This page introduces the Jigsaw discussion method and describes how to use this method in classroom activities. Jigsaw was first developed as a way to combat racial bias and diffuse tension in classrooms in the early 1970s. This method has been proven to ease hostilities and increase students’ level of mastery. The primary strategy is to create activities that allow students to cultivate topic-specific expertise and then teach the material to other students in the class. The Jigsaw method fosters a cooperative rather than competitive environment, as students draw on everyone’s expertise to complete a task, understand a text, or prepare for an individual exam.
This page focuses on an article written by the Commission for Social Justice Educators. The article describes multipartiality, or the strategy of balancing the power of narratives in discussion facilitation, as a way to address the weight and power of dominant narratives. Dominant narratives are generalized assumptions that dismiss others’ experiences and reference the experience of privileged groups to refer to everyone. Multipartial facilitators invite participants to analyze the limitations of their thinking and encourage the contribution of counternarratives.
This handout provides strategies for responding to “hot moments,” or the sudden eruption of tension and conflict in classroom discussion. Hot moments often occur when a well-intentioned student makes a comment that is politically charged and personally offensive to members of the class or the instructor. This resource equips instructors with skills to turn hot moments into teachable moments. Potential strategies include depersonalizing insensitive comments by critiquing the statement rather than the speaker and allowing students to write individually and anonymously about an insensitive comment.
This resource helps instructors develop inclusive discussion guidelines for general discussion-based classes as well as classes specifically geared towards diversity and justice. Clear discussion guidelines at the start of the term make it easier for instructors and students to navigate challenging material and interpersonal conflict. Guidelines also serve as a reminder later in the term should discussion conduct deteriorate. Instructors can use this resource to set up guidelines or cooperate with students to establish guidelines. Examples of guidelines include making an effort to get to know other students and being mindful of when you are taking up more space than others in the conversation.
This page helps instructors manage the way some students block or divert dialogue as a defensive response to perspectives they find uncomfortable or challenging. Common blockers and suggested responses for how to restore dialogue effectively, authored by Kelly Obear of the Social Justice Training Institute, are listed below. For instance, “Explain-Aways,” which appeal to the dominant narrative as a way to side-step critique without addressing the key issues in question, are one type of blocker. Further strategies for instructors to approach difficult classroom dialogue, such as turning it to the group and using “I statements,” are also available below.
The Inventory of Inclusive Teaching Strategies has 50 concrete strategies to help instructors build an inclusive classroom. The Inventory has four course components: student-instructor interaction, student-student interaction, content, and instructional practices. Instructors can use this resource to reflect on their classroom practices and decide which strategies they would like to implement.
This page details five general practices for building inclusivity in the classroom, from syllabus design to interpersonal interactions. The five general practices are: (1) Establish clear expectations and goals for classroom interactions, (2) Build rapport and community in your class, (3) Model inclusive language that acknowledges student difference, (4) Help students develop awareness of multiple visible and invisible identities in the classroom, and (5) Address tensions or problematic patterns of interaction. Each practice has specific steps outlined below.
These questions prompt students to engage more deeply with challenging topics and one another. The questions are set up to familiarize instructors with student-centered pedagogy and are appropriate for student-centered discussion facilitation. There are fourteen types of questions: Action, Analytical, Cause and Effect, Challenge, Diagnostic, Evaluative, Exploratory, Extension, Hypothetical, Open-Ended, Priority, Process, Relational, and Summary.