Learner Engagement: Discussion Strategies


Discussions encourage the exchange of dialogue between students to enhance connecting with new content via prior experiences. Through the adoption of specific strategies anchored on solid pedagogy, instructors can harness different strategies to flexibly guide students toward intended objectives. 



  • What makes a good discussion prompt?
    • Open-ended with no clear “right” answer.
    • Aligns with objectives.
    • Clear on what to do.
    • Accessible to a wide range of learners to demonstrate knowledge.
      • For whole group discussions (online or in-person), considering pausing and including students who haven’t contributed yet.
      • For small group discussions (online or in-person), included writing, drawing, speaking, or a combination.
      • For online asynchronous discussions, consider allowing students to participate in discussions boards with video, sounds, images, drawing, maps, models, diagrams, text, or a written combination.
  • Icebreakers
  • Discussion Board
    • Instructors can post prompts and resources through multiple means of representation, such as instructions, a combination of text, video, and sound recording.
    • Students can also demonstrate their understanding by posting with a combination of video, text, images, diagrams, sound, etc.
    • It’s best to include parameters of a due date, small grade, amount of posts, and post word limit.
  • Think-pair-share or Write-pair-share
    • Form groups (preferably 2-4). For online classes, consider breakout rooms.
    • Give the groups time to think (5 - 10 minutes) and discuss.
    • Ask the group to elect a member to summarize for the whole class. 
  • Brainstorming
    • Ask students to brainstorm to share all their relevant prior knowledge to a specific content-related prompt.
    • This can either be a whole class or small group (2 - 4 people) activity.
      • For online, consider ideaboardz.com 
      • For in-person, consider large post-it sheets that stick to walls.
    • Give groups enough time to think, share, and write (10 mins max)
    • Ask the group to elect a member to share with the whole class.
  • Polling
    • Engages all participants, which is particularly useful in larger classes.
    • Provides knowledge check-ins throughout lectures
    • Most common responses can be used as topics in discussion groups.
    • Always share the responses with the whole class.
    • Sensitive questions can be setup as anonymous.
    • Visit a guide on Polling activities
  • Annotation
    • Digital annotation allows participants to collaboratively markup and respond inside resources’ margins (video, text, webpages, or images).
    • Instructors can pre-annotate resources with prompts to start and guide discussions. 
    • View a guide on Annotation activities. 
  • Digital Whiteboards
    • Create a collaborative space for synchronous and asynchronous online discussions.
    • Miro has many templates, this is one community builder example
  • Role-playing
    • Give participants a character or role to research.
    • Ask participants to engage in the scenario as that role.
    • This could be helpful for students who need to work with patients and understand the social and emotional human-side of their work. E.g. physical therapy, etc.
  • Discussion leaders
    • Assigns students to prepare questions and facilitate different weeks.
    • Be clear that students will create X amounts of prompts and lead a discussion for an X amount of time. 
  • Get up and move
    • Consider participants getting out of their seats.
    • Pull something from your content that requires deeper analysis that is debatable.
    • Take the 2 opposing sides and ask students to move to the side they most agree with.
      • For example, for students in higher education, AI is generative vs AI is limiting, Art is for the artist vs. art is for the audience, etc.
    • Ask some participants from each side to quickly share their reasoning.

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