What is it?
Student-led discussions are when the instructor steps back and lets the students do the talking—to each other, not to the teacher.
Watch and Learn
The video clip below features Associate Professor Jennifer L. Palmer of the UGA History department describing how and why she facilitates student-led discussions in her undergraduate courses. Watch Dr. Palmer's full 2016 talk entitled, "Keeping Up With The Past: Student-Centered Teaching and Social Media" in our archive.
Why might you try it?
- You find during discussions that students talk to you, not each other.
- You find yourself answering questions that you pose to the class.
- You want to emphasize the complexity of your topic and/or you want to see how students are thinking about it.
Tips for your first time
Before: Allow students to practice sharing ideas in small groups or in writing. Don’t let them come empty-handed to the discussion.
During: Be aware of non-verbal cues that you are sending in response to student comments. Students will look to you to see if they were “right” or “on the right track.” This can stifle other students from building on, or disagreeing with, those who have shared. Practice having a neutral face and giving students time to respond to each other's comments and correct their misperceptions.
After: Debrief, debrief, debrief the process—how the discussion went, not only what they said in the discussion. Ask students what they noticed about how the conversation went. Share your observations. Have students set goals for next time.
Make it an inclusive practice
When students have room to express their ideas you can learn how— and what— they’re thinking. Since we all learn more when diverse perspectives are presented and listened to with open minds, here are some tips to foster an inclusive environment when engaging in a student-led discussion:
- When a student makes an excellent contribution to the discussion, avoid praising them publicly during the debrief. However, you might privately acknowledge the importance of this student's contribution (e.g., through an email) so that they know they are on the right track and don't become discouraged.
- Check in privately with students who do not contribute orally so that they know you notice them. Consider other ways in which their perspectives might be heard by others.
- Do something about non-inclusive language, micro-agressions and unproductive behaviors; don't ignore. Check out resources and more resources for having difficult discussions or what to do when the conversation becomes heated.