Classroom full of students

How to use discussion as a teaching strategy

One of the great challenges of classroom management is figuring out how to quiet the exuberantly talkative students and redirecting that energy (you don’t want to stifle it entirely) to a more productive academic end.

While there are techniques you can employ to quiet a noisy classroom, it’s worth taking a moment to listen to the noise itself and identify its source.

Who is doing most of the talking? Chances are that they’re your extroverted students. These students thrive on the social element of group projects and have a greater tendency to speak and act without having fully thought things through.

Unlike the extroverted students, the introverted ones may be contributing to the noise by laughing or making a few comments, but they’re likely holding back and not saying or doing much of anything that might be heard. These are the students who aren’t as keen on group projects or discussions; getting them to talk is a challenge, to say the least.

It’s also very likely that the students who are talking are your auditory learners. These students learn and process information best when they talk things through. Like the extroverts, they thrive in group settings and discussions.

Now that you’ve identified some commonalities among the talkers, listen to the content of their conversations: What are they interested in? What do they get excited about? What do they know about? People love to talk about what they love, what they know, and, in general, anything that’s meaningful and relevant to their life. There are far fewer people (though there are some) who will talk with much enthusiasm about something they know very little, or nothing, about.

With these points in mind, let’s take a look at some simple strategies you can use to encourage productive classroom discussions.

10 innovative teaching strategies to channel this enthusiasm for informal discussion

At this point, we’ve identified the more talkative students as extroverted and/or auditory learners who enjoy discussing matters that are meaningful to them. It’s highly likely that these are the same students who help you drive class discussions, but also derail them when they veer off topic.

So what can you do to manage and redirect this enthusiasm?

Here are some ideas on how to manage talkative students during academic classroom discussions.

teacher with a pen looking at the audience ready to write on the board
Photo credit: Rawpixel

1. Identify the objective

Before starting any classroom discussion, be sure to write the objective where everyone can see it. Read it out loud before the discussion, and refer to it as needed throughout to keep the conversation on topic.

board with the words follow the rules written in chalk
Photo credit: Geralt

2. Establish clear guidelines and parameters for class discussions

These guidelines might specify how many times a student may or should contribute and a maximum time frame for sharing. While these guidelines may help you manage the noise in your classroom, they may also produce a more rigid environment in which students are less willing to speak freely.

Photo credit: Jaime Lopes

3. Take note of students’ interests and weave them into the beginning of a discussion

For example, you could begin a discussion on World War 2 by referencing Captain America, or discussing the Avengers’ dilemma concerning the Sokovia Accords with the follow-up question of whether it’s better to always follow the law or to do what you think is right, even if there are consequences.

young girl student writing on a notebook in class
Photo credit: pan xiaozhen

4. Provide opportunities for students to prepare for the discussion

Give them a variety of ways to prepare: reading, listening, watching. Students are much more likely to participate if they’re familiar with the topic of your discussion. After all, nobody wants to speak up and end up humiliating themselves in front of others if it becomes evident that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Students discussing in a small group
Photo credit: Rawpixel.com

5. Incorporate engaging student discussion strategies

We want our students to have the ability to articulate their thoughts, analyze the points made by their instructors or peers, and discuss any new information they acquire. We also want them to know how to disagree in a healthy and respectful manner, and perhaps come to some sort of a consensus. Engaging student discussions is the answer to creating a culture of speakers, listeners, and learners.

teacher showing a balloon in front of a messy classroom with balloons everywhere
Photo credit: epollato0

6. Affirm, summarize, and redirect as needed

When the discussion starts to veer off topic, or a student begins to ever so enthusiastically wax poetic (or not so poetic), you may want to let it run for a short while — but not too long — to see if any relevant or valuable segway presents itself. If it does, affirm the idea, mention the segway, and then redirect the conversation back to main objective.

group of student working on a project around a table

7. Offer alternative times for off-topic discussions

Oftentimes, kids just want to be heard. When a student veers off topic, affirm their ideas and suggest an alternative time to discuss those topics further. This could be a lunch period, study hall, recess time, or whatever other time you’re willing to devote to the student.

8. Call upon the quieter students to share

Doing this breaks the momentum of the noise. Often, quieter students tend to think independently and have some kind of insight that will contribute value to the discussion.

Group Of Teenage Students Collaborating On Project In Class
Photo credit: SpeedKingz

9. Think-pair-share

This is a popular learning strategy that’s broken up into three parts:

  1. The students think about (and often answer on paper) the discussion questions.
  2. The student are divided into pairs or small groups.
  3. The students share their ideas with their partner or group.
classmate working in a team on an assignment
Photo credit: sonconaz97

10. Divide and conquer

There may be times when you don’t want to go through the full think-pair-share format and just want to put students in groups for the sake of more manageable discussion. For these groups, you might want to separate the extroverts to keep them from feeding off of each other too much and raising the volume of the classroom. To do this, you could pair extroverts with introverts (the introverts may not love you for this) or auditory learners with visual or kinesthetic learners. This helps encourage the less avid speakers to gradually leave their comfort zone and open up. You may also want to provide speaking and note-taking guidelines for these groups to keep their discussions focused.

A worthy challenge

We teach and interact with beautifully diverse groups of students, each with their own thoughts and unique ways of expressing themselves. While it may challenging to hear them through the noise, the effort is definitely worth it in the end. Draw out your students’ thoughts, influence and direct them, and see them grow and mature into their best selves.

Photo credit: Government of Prince Edward Island / Flickr.com

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