Have you ever found it difficult to start a group discussion? Or once you've started one, have you ever found it hard to keep it interesting? This lesson provides some basic parameters for what makes a quality group discussion, examples of good questions that promote good conversation, and methods that help keep the discussion interesting.
Choosing a Topic
Can you think of a job that never requires you to interact and communicate with other people? Probably not! Everything requires at least some human interaction at some point. Learning to discuss things and talk to other people is an essential skill that ought to be taught in school. Using group discussion, three or more people involved in a discussion, is a great way to practice these skills.
The great thing about group discussion is that it can be used in any class or subject. Although virtually anything can be discussed in a group setting, some topics are better than others. Generally, issues that have clear 'right' answers will not make for good discussion topics; the answer will be quickly established and the need to converse will quickly end. Better topic choices are things that are at least slightly controversial, ambiguous, or can have many different viewpoints. In other words, topics that are open to personal interpretation and opinion are good for group discussion, and any topic that has an ethical component can make for an exciting discussion.
Here are a few topic ideas based on the core academic school subjects:
- Any fictional book
- Meanings of a poem
- How an author's background might have influenced their writing
- The influence of a specific event in history
- The motives of a person of historical significance
- Debating the pros and cons of different styles of government
- The impact and significance of a particular historical experiment
- Interpretation of experimental results
- Ethics in experimentation
- The significance of graphical data
- Comparing and contrasting different ways to solve a problem
- Economic policy and impacts
Types of Questions
The best types of questions for a class discussion do not have 'yes/no' answers or short answers. They are also not simple based on knowledge or comprehension, where there is a definite right answer. When writing questions for discussion, it can be helpful to think about Bloom's Taxonomy, which is illustrated by a pyramid.
The pyramid of taxonomy by Bloom
Bloom's Taxonomy organizes the different levels of thinking and learning. When thinking about writing group discussion questions, the best ones will be included in the top two or three levels. Questions that require the group to evaluate and synthesize information make for better discussions, as compared to questions that simply require the group to recall information. Here are a few question starters that can be customized to any topic you have chosen:
What would you predict/infer from ?
What ideas can you add to ?
How would you create/design a new ?
What do you think about ?
What solutions would you suggest for ?
Conducting a Group Discussion
The simplest way to facilitate a group discussion involves posing a question to the group and then calling on different people to answer. But there are more engaging and interactive ways to conduct group discussions. When using discussion topics that spark debates, have students move to different sides of the room depending on their viewpoint.
Formal debate can also be an effective and fun way to organize group discussions; split the class into teams and, in point/counterpoint fashion, have each team defend their positions. When discussing a particular historical event or book, it can also be fun and entertaining to have students take on the roles of different people and try to answer the discussion question from their character's perspective.
The best types of topics for group discussion are ones that are somewhat controversial, have an ethical component, or allow for many different viewpoints. When writing discussion questions, it is best to avoid questions that have clear right and wrong answers or require simple recall of knowledge. Focus on questions that require the group to synthesize and evaluate information in order to extend the discussion.
Activities that involve students moving to different sides of the room depending on their opinion or taking on the role of different characters can help keep group discussions interesting.