Students discuss with an instructor during class

Discussions: Protocols and Strategies

Brief Overview

Brief Overview

Discussion is a large part of teaching and learning. We want to see and hear our learners engaged in conversations about the course content, making connections to their lives or to other aspects of their education or profession, and we want them to remember what we are learning in class. Discussion is added to our notes for class, but what opportunities might happen if we take the time to think through how we can intentionally structure those discussions? Discussion protocols and strategies are valuable tools that can help us to better align our activities and learning goals and set us up for more student engagement and better outcomes.



Setting the stage for discussion

Rather than just jumping into a discussion, first, consider "situating and valuing" the discussions. As John Silvestro (2021) explains in Creating More Engaged Class Discussions, being more deliberate in how we approach and organize discussions and explicitly sharing how and why we are holding them can increase student engagement. First, we spend time situating a discussion, explaining how the conversation fits into the course, and how we are building on topics or ideas. Then, spend time valuing the discussion, or ensuring that the conversation creates something of value that can be directly applied to coursework or built upon in later areas of a course or program. If we don’t take time to make meaning for our students, then they will develop their own situation and value – which may work against what we intend. We share protocols, strategies, and a template below that will help you think through your discussions before conducting them.


Discussion protocols

Discussion protocols are developed processes structured to promote and support communication, problem-solving, and keep participants on track toward their learning goals. Commonly used protocols include Affinity Mapping, The Final Word, Jigsaw, and Zones of Comfort, Risk and Danger (of which there are a few variations such as this one where you construct a zone map) National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) has a huge list of protocols and activities that you can modify and use in courses and meetings. Each activity has a description, an explanation of purpose if needed, and notes on preparation methods.


Discussion Strategies

Cult of Pedagogy is a site run by a former K-12 educator and professor who studies the art and science of teaching. This site publishes blogs, podcasts, and videos on the topic of teaching. On that site, they share a Big List of Class Discussion Strategies that can be used or modified for multiple modalities. You may recognize some of the more popular strategies such as Fishbowl, Socratic Seminar, or Think-Pair-Share.

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Use the Discussions Guided Thinking Template to think through all aspects for your conversation, including the purpose, interactions, goals, and strategies. While geared for the online discussion space, these aspects of a discussion are helpful to consider in any modality.

Do you just want a template that you can copy, paste, and modify? Check out these Discussion Templates for Elearning and use as you please. These templates are written for the online space, but can be used in a face-to-face, hybrid, or flex course to boost student conversation between classes or in preparation for class activities.

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