For Educators: Suggestions for Leading Discussions
- Decide on the purpose of the discussion. Do you want to get participants thinking about
a subject new to them? Do you want them to discuss the positives and negatives of two
different positions? The purpose of the discussion will affect how you run it.
- Think ahead about the issues you want participants to raise. Write them down, and if they
are not mentioned, you can be ready to bring them up.
- State your topic clearly in the beginning. This will save time and help avoid frustration.
- Give any background information that will be needed by the participants to understand the
topic. There is nothing worse than discussing a subject when half of the participants don't
- Make sure the atmosphere is courteous. People should not interrupt or try to discredit others.
By treating all comments with respect, you will be setting a good tone for the group members.
- Clear up misconceptions, but do so tactfully. You can say: “What do the rest of you think of
that idea?” or “Some people do things another way,’ or “People who have
studied this problem have found that...” If a misconception is dangerous, clear it up right away!
- Encourage everyone to participate. You may have to ask specifically for quiet participants’
input. To someone who is talking a lot, you might have to say, “Let’ s hear what the rest of the
group has to say.”
- If someone says something that is confusing, ask him/her to clarify it right away. You can say,
“What exactly do you mean?” or “Can you explain that a little more?”
- Encourage participants to talk with each other, not at each other. Comments should build
on each other, rather than being unconnected. You may have to make the connections yourself, by
saying something like, “Both Ana and Mary brought up good points that illustrate the importance
for planning your menus before you shop.”
- Keep on track! If people start to talk about unrelated issues, bring them back to the topic.
You can say, “That point is interesting! Can you tell me how it relates to the topic?”
- Write down points brought out in the discussion. Everyone should be able to see them. This helps
people focus on what’s been said, and helps keep them from getting off track.
- End the discussion by restating the most important points. Better yet, ask your participants
to do this. This is a good way to see who’s been listening.
- Don’t despair if your group is reluctant to talk at first. Build in very short discussions in
each lesson. After a while, they will become more talkative.