Discussion Activities

There is nothing better than a deep and thoughtful discussion or friendly classroom debate, but as we know things don’t always go as planned. In classroom discussions, I'm sure we have all been faced with both a sea of blank stares with no response as well as out-of-order chaos.  Below are some of the activities you can use to strike a good balance, keep control, engage students, and break away from the traditional whole-class discussion.  These activities allow for more reflection, interaction, and thoughtful expression.      

The silent discussion method allows everyone (even your most reluctant students) to share their ideas.  It gives time for students to reflect on their own thoughts as well as learn about the perspective of others before sharing out loud.

-       Develop a variety of discussion questions related to what you are teaching.  Write them or project them on the board.  If you have 25 students, you’ll probably want at least 12 questions.

-       Number students off and have them write the discussion question connected to their number on a piece of paper, or you can use this free template: Silent Discussion Template

-       Students respond to the question they wrote with their own opinion.  When they are done, they get up, circulate the room at their own pace, and find an available seat with a new discussion question. 
-       Students read the new question, the responses already made to it, and add their own thoughts to the “discussion” in writing.

-       This continues for as long as you like.  When you are done, you can have a whole-class open discussion on all of the topics, or put students into small groups to discuss.

If you want to read about how I use this method in more detail you can read this blog post I wrote: SILENT DISCUSSIONS

If you have a class that doesn’t engage well in discussion or debate, ethical dilemmas or what if? prompts are the perfect way to bring out their opinions.

-       Ethical dilemmas are situations where a person has to make a choice based on a moral situation.  What If? prompts are situations where a person has to consider how they would react if something in their life or the word were different in some way.

-       These prompts can be used in a variety of ways.  I use them as a weekly bell-ringer to spark a short discussion in small groups at the start of class.  Although discussions are not always used to start a class, I find it a great way to warm up student brains for the lesson ahead.

Gallery discussions are an effective way to get students out of their seats and collaborating in small groups.  All you need are a few pieces of chart paper, some markers, and 5-6 discussion prompts.
-       Create 5-6 discussion questions about the content you are studying and write them on a piece of chart paper.  Hang them around the classroom in stations.  

-       Put students into small groups and have them elect a scribe.

-       Students circulate to each of the stations for a specified amount of time.

-       Have each group elect a speaker.  This person will share with the whole class the topic that brought out the most discussion for them and what their thoughts were on it.  

This method is useful for tackling controversial topics and helping your students prepare for a debate or persuasive writing.
-       Put up 4 signs around your classroom that read Strongly Agree / Agree / Disagree / Strongly Disagree

-       Make a controversial statement and have students write down on a small piece of paper whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree (so they make an independent choice instead of following their friends).  

-       Students move to the corner of the choice they made.

-       Students spend 5-10 minutes discussing the topic and making point form notes on their thoughts.

-       Afterwards, have a member from each group summarize their discussion for the whole class.

-       As a final activity, have students write a paragraph on their opinion on the statement now.  Have them consider if they feel the same way they did when they started, or if the other groups were able to sway their opinions.

If you want signs to print, you can check out these free ones from Stacey Lloyd: Opinion Signs.  She uses these signs as a creative and engaging way to poll her whole class during discussions, but they can also work for the 4 corners activity!

Short video clips are an excellent way to engage your students in discussion.  I use videos as journal writing prompts, but they could also easily be used as small group or pair discussion starters.
-       Put students into small groups or pairs and show them a short video clip based on the content you are teaching (or I like to just use a general topic of interest to engage students).

-       Provide the related discussion prompt and give them a certain amount of time to discuss.  Everyone should respond to the discussion prompt in the small group.

-       Have each pair or group share what they discussed with the rest of the class.

Pyramid discussions are useful when you want to scaffold to make a whole-class discussion less intimidating for those students who are more reluctant to speak.  They are also useful in preparation for debate or persuasive writing.
-       For this activity, you’ll have to develop topics where students must come to an agreement on a particular topic.  For example, you could provide a list of survival items and students must determine which three are the most useful.  You could also have a more general prompt like “What are the three greatest inventions of all time?”

-       Have students start in pairs.  The two students discuss this prompt and must work together and compromise in their discussion to come to an agreement.

-       Once each pair is in agreement, two pairs move together to form groups of four.  The new larger group must then share their ideas and again all come to agreement.

-       The groups of four then move into a larger group of eight and again must share their ideas and come to an agreement.

-       After groups of eight, have students move back to their seats and have a whole-class discussion on the topic. 
Discussion Speed Dating is a fun way for students to share their own thoughts on a topic and also hear multiple other perspectives.   If your students don’t know what speed dating is, you could start by showing them this short clip from Gilmore Girls to give them a sense of what a speed dating session looks like: The Gilmore Girls Speed Dating Clip . Be sure to first preview the clip to ensure it is appropriate for your particular students.  Get this free activity here: Speed Dating Discussion

-       Arrange the classroom so that two desks are facing each other in a line.  Each student gets this free speed dating discussion sheet that they will need during the activity.  Have students choose any seat.

-       Give each of the two rows a letter (A & B).

-       Give students a persuasive topic or statement to discuss or debate with their partner for 3-5 minutes.  Set a timer!

-       Have students spend 1 minute filling in the first section of the speed dating discussion reflection sheet.  This is meant to be quick, point-form thoughts to remind them of their discussion later.

-       Tell all of row A to move one seat over so they are facing the next person.

-       The discussion continues and this process is repeated as many times as you would like.

-       In the end, have students write a paragraph on their own thoughts on the topic using their reflection sheet as a reference.  They may refer to the other members of the class that they spoke with in their writing.  For example, “I agreed with ____ when they said…” or “While _____ made some strong points, I disagreed with their thought that ….”

Looking for other discussion activities?  The other Coffee Shop ladies have you covered!  Check 
them out by clicking the links below:

The SuperHERO Teacher - Literature Interviews: A Whole-Class Discussion for Any Novel

Room 213 - Speaking and Listening as Part of the Pre-Reading Stage

The Daring English Teacher - Fishbowl Discussions
Back to Top