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How to Contribute to a Discussion

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore some of the best ways to contribute meaningfully to classroom discussion, from making sure you are prepared to making sure your answers are concise.

Contributing to a Classroom Discussion

Contributing to a classroom discussion may seem like an easy thing to do - just open your mouth and say whatever comes to mind. But talking about your favorite type of apple when your class is having a discussion on Shakespeare's Hamlet isn't exactly making a valuable contribution. Chances are your teacher or professor won't think so either when they're marking down participation points.

In this lesson we will explore how to contribute in a substantive and meaningful way to a classroom discussion. Being able to do so can aid your comprehension of the material and help you craft critical thinking and debate skills too!

Contributing well to a classroom discussion does not have to be difficult, but it does take some skill and finesse. Below are some tips and advice for making sure the contributions you make are important and remembered.

Be prepared.

This may be more important to contributing in a meaningful way to classroom discussions than anything else. After all, if you don't read the material, how can you expect to have insightful thoughts on it? If it's a classroom discussion over a book or play, be sure you have read the book and understand its important points thoroughly. It may also be helpful to take notes during your preparation that you can refer to during your class discussion.

Listen.

This may sound obvious, but active listening is of paramount importance during a class discussion. It doesn't do any good if you simply repeat the same sentiment one of your classmates just made because you weren't paying attention. During a discussion, follow the various points and arguments closely. Taking notes may also help you organize your own thoughts or remember important things for later.

Be original.

When it's your turn to contribute, do your best to be original. As stated above, restating someone else's point can make you look inattentive or disinterested. Be sure to think critically about the subject material beforehand and write down any thoughts you think are particularly cogent or thought-provoking.

Ask questions.

Don't be afraid to ask questions if something one of your classmates says confuses you. Asking questions cannot only help you understand your classmate's point better, it can sometimes help them explain themselves better. Furthermore, it shows your teacher and your classmates that you are listening and that you value others' thoughts and views.

Summarize others.

When your thought builds off another's thought, quickly summarize their point before you begin yours. This demonstrates the link between the two thoughts and displays your active participation in the discussion.

For example, don't be afraid to preface your statement in class with, 'If I understand you correctly' or 'So, what you are saying' and then followed by the other person's point as you understand it. After your summary, be sure to give them a moment to agree or disagree with your summary, and clarify if necessary. This can be a great help to both of you and the class generally in understanding each other.

Be concise.

Class discussions are exercises in logic and reason, not giving speeches. Try to boil what you say down to the very crux of your contribution, whether you are disagreeing or agreeing with a classmate or simply giving your particular critique on the book's material or message. Avoid long digressions off the topic. Try to keep any metaphors or examples you use short and to the point.

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