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Coming to a Discussion Prepared

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

How do you come to a discussion ready to share your point of view? What if you still have a lot of unanswered questions? This lesson describes tips for getting ready to engage with others about topics, texts, and issues.

Being Unprepared

Imagine you're an eighth grader waiting for your English class to start. You've got a big problem; you haven't read the material your teacher has assigned, and you know there will be a class discussion today. You'll likely get called on to share your thoughts, and you won't have any idea what to say.

You've only had one frantic conversation with the person sitting next to you, who isn't being very forthcoming with information. This classmate tells you that you should have come to the class prepared for the discussion. Maybe your classmate has a point.

This lesson looks at how to be better prepared next time, including what to do beyond the basics of what's assigned.

Follow the Guidelines

The first tip to be better prepared might seem like a no-brainer: Follow the guidelines provided to you by your teacher or other leader who has proposed a discussion.

If your teacher has been clear with the required work, you'll need to set aside study time to follow through on this.

What about when the guidelines for preparation are fuzzy? In this case, it's critical to clarify what your teacher expects from you. Are you expected to read a text thoroughly or only portions? Are there supporting materials to read as well, beyond just the main text? If your teacher has provided reading or study questions, refer to those as you work outside of class.

At a college level, and even sometimes for younger students, you may also be assigned a class preparation assignment, which could even be graded. This type of assignment ensures you do the required reading and tasks before you head into class.

Respond to the Text

So, let's say that you read the material as prescribed by your teacher. You even had some good ideas while you were doing your work.

Now it's the start of class, and you can't remember anything about those great ideas. You remember bits and pieces, but if the teacher calls on you to share your thoughts, there's not a lot that comes to mind.

To remedy this scenario, take some time before a discussion to consider what you would like to contribute based on the work you've done. After all, you've put energy into absorbing the information. Now is your chance to give your own perspective on that material.

Let's say that you've read a short story for your English class. How might you come to class ready to talk about your thoughts on it? As you read, consider taking notes of what springs to mind, and maybe even note the page number so you can refer back to these parts quickly. These notes could be on paper or electronic, depending on what is allowed by the discussion leader.

Here are some examples of things you might note as they relate to a short story:

  • 'Pg. 18 - The author uses a lot of imagery related to animals and nature, even though the story is about two friends living in the city. Could this be important?'

Here, you've noted a theme you noticed, even if you are not yet sure what it means.

  • 'Pg. 22 - The dialogue starts to get tense between the two main characters. This happens very fast, though I'm not sure why. Ask about this in class.'

Here, you've recognized a shift in tone and dialogue. You may not understand what has happened to create this tension, but it's a great starting point for discussion with others.

  • 'Pg. 25-28 - The ending left a lot of questions unanswered. I wondered whether the main characters would ever resolve their disagreement or if the friendship was over forever.'

Here, you've identified questions that go beyond the text itself, allowing your imagination to carry on past the work of the author.

Taking notes allows you to organize your thoughts and remember your ideas and questions later.
Image of a laptop, notebook and phone

Coming to a discussion prepared doesn't necessarily mean that you have all of the answers. Often, it means you gave some thought to what you read and have ideas about the text, but you're also hoping to learn more from others in the discussion.

Consider the Evidence

When you have the opportunity to share your point of view, you'll want to cite evidence. Evidence here doesn't mean the smoking gun at the scene of a crime. Instead, evidence, as it relates to most discussions, could be any of the following:

In an English class:

  • Referring to a quote from the short story to demonstrate the perspective of a character

In a History class:

  • Citing a Supreme Court decision to give an example of a historical trend

In a Science class:

  • Mentioning the outcome of an experiment and how it supports a particular theory

Why is evidence so important? Imagine your classmate giving their opinion about the short story by saying, 'The author seemed to change the tone at some point during the story. It was kind of strange, but I don't remember what was happening or when that occurred.'

A different approach would be to cite a specific paragraph where the author shifted the tone and give examples of the back-and-forth dialogue where the two main characters get into a very heated discussion. Being specific about this textual evidence creates room for further discussion. Others can look at those same details and respond.

Other Types of Evidence

In our example, we've used a short story as the source of your evidence in an English class. In other situations, you may have more evidence available to you.

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