Modeling Positive Responses in Class Discussion

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will discuss strategies teachers can use to help them appropriately and respectfully respond to student responses--both correct and incorrect--in a non-critical, positive classroom discussion environment.

Cannaty and Holmes

Every time you begin an open discussion on even the most uncontroversial topics, two students take the lead for their half of the room. The discussion quickly disintegrates into a yelling match between these infamous frenemies. Cannaty insists his opinion is always right, while Holmes thinks Cannaty is full of himself. Both students could use help learning to participate in class discussions effectively and without inciting a riot.


To use modeling as a teaching method means to use the same language, behavior and mannerisms as you hope to instill in those you teach. When you model those things you want to teach students, they learn by observing and mimicking your actions. When teaching students how to participate in a class discussion, it is important to remain in control as the teacher and moderator of the conversation.

Modeling conversational skills in a class discussion is critical to maintaining a positive environment.

If a controversial discussion gets heated, like with Cannaty and Holmes, it helps to model some de-escalation strategies to help students learn how to keep cool under pressure. Modeling conversational fairness by providing equal time and opportunity to share without interruption can help. It's also important to understand how to make corrections gracefully when someone shares misinformation so as to model ways to counteract inaccuracies.


It is important that when teaching through class discussions, you foster positive responses by being fair to students who want to participate. Providing an opportunity for all students to share by moderating for time and forbidding interruptions will show students that class discussions can be courteous and equitable. This may also encourage reluctant students to participate because they know their contribution will be well received. It is not fair to force all students to participate in the same ways, as some students may have more to say than others. Based on this principle of fairness, allowing Cannaty and Holmes to hijack a class discussion would not be modeling a positive response in class discussion and would not be fair to the rest of the class.

It might be helpful to break up the class into small groups in order to encourage participation by reluctant students.
small group discussion


Knowing how to moderate the conversation by de-escalating the situation, or defusing things when emotions run high, might prevent Cannaty and Holmes from creating more disruption. It also might help to explain ahead of time that when debating controversial topics, the discussion will need to be civilized and respectful. Model this civility by remaining calm under pressure. Learn to deflect and refocus conversational tangents that derail the discussion from its purpose. Teach a lesson on logical fallacies so students learn to stick to facts, evidence and reasoning rather than emotion.

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