Discussion Practicalities

How a discussion is set up can help minimise any potential problems and sticky moments.
The setup of most science laboratories is good for carrying out experiments but not for
effective discussions. Where possible move furniture so that everyone is comfortable,
able to make eye contact and can hear everyone else. If this is not possible is there
another room that could be used? Set the scene in the room with related posters or
Often the best way to establish ground rules for a discussion-based session is for the
students to determine their own. Stick to about three to five rules, which they can be
reminded of at the start of each session.
Some suggestions:
Respect everyone’s opinion even if it is not the same as yours.
Views can be expressed without interruption, but only one person at a time may
speak. Use ‘talk tokens’ such as a talking conch.
Be conscious of body language and non-verbal responses – they can be as
disrespectful as words.
Challenge the idea not the individual.
A good discussion should have an aim (What do you want to get from the discussion?) and
make sure everyone knows what the discussion is about. A good discussion about a topic
will only occur if people feel they know enough to have an opinion. Basic knowledge of the
topic can be given before the session or as part of the ‘hook’ or body of the session.
A good discussion may change participants’ opinions and so it is useful to measure
opinions before and after the activity. There are many different techniques that can be
A simple ‘hands up’ can be a quick way to gauge opinion.
Use the classroom as a barometer, with one side of the room labelled ‘for’ and the
opposite side labelled ‘against’. Ask students to stand where their opinion lies.
Traffic lights. Hold up coloured cards: red for against, green for agree, amber for
not sure.
Agree/disagree cards. One side reads agree, the other disagree....