Classroom Discussion Skills

Center for International and Cultural Education

College classes in the U.S. typically value critical thinking and classroom engagement at least as much as content knowledge. This means talking about ideas in class may become important for you. Most students will have a discussion-heavy class at some point, which often includes their FTS (first-term seminar). 

To do well in class discussion, first think about what role the discussion plays in your class. Is your professor using class discussion to review material to help you retain it? Or is the purpose to apply old concepts from reading/lecture to new and challenging scenarios? Is your professor hoping to help you practice speaking about the concepts? Review your syllabus and talk to your professor if you're not sure.

Once you understand the role discussion plays, you can better prepare. For example, if the discussion is to help review the readings, you'll want to be sure to keep up with the reading, and be ready to make a comment or ask a question about at least one portion of the reading. Be sure to have the page number ready. 

Students often think the only way to participate in class discussion is to contribute a new idea or statement. However, you can also ask a thoughtful question. It can be a question you have about what the reading means, or how it connects to other concepts and readings in the class. You can ask clarification about the terminology. You can ask a classmate to expand on or clarify something they have said. 

It is okay, and often a good idea, to write down what you want to say so that you can refer to it (or even read it directly) during class discussion. This is especially helpful if you find you get nervous during discussion, and forget what you want to say.

It's ok to be confident. When you contribute to discussion, speak up and make eye contact with your classmates. Your professor and your classmates are glad you're participating. 

For more help preparing for discussion, including how to jump into the conversation, how to disagree politely, and tips on helpful phrases, make an appointment with Pam Pearson.