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UIC TA Handbook - Checklist for Meaningful Discussion Sessions

By Diann Porter

Former Teaching Assistant, Mathematics
UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Checklist for Meaningful Discussions

The following information is designed to help teaching assistants prepare to lead a class discussion or prepare a class for participating in group discussions.

Preparing for a Discussion

Students need explicit directions when the instructor wants to form small groups in which discussion will occur.

The following questions can be used for developing the needed verbal and written instructions. Don't forget to give time limits for starting and stopping of the discussion, especially when it is held within a class period.

Concerns that need to be resolved prior to holding a class discussion.

  1. What is the specific task that is to be accomplished by this discussion?
  2. What is the best format in which to hold this discussion: whole class, small groups?
  3. What are the ground rules of the discussion?
  4. How much should I enter the discussion?
  5. Would a handout be helpful?
  6. Should I compile a list of quotations, opinions, factual statements, illustrations and other devices to keep the discussion flowing?
  7. Is a recorder needed?
  8. How will I start the discussion?
  9. How do I keep the group on task?
  10. What type of closure, wrap-up or processing of the discussion should occur?
  11. Will the discussion and follow-up assignments be graded? If yes, how?

Relevant Information shared with the class.

  1. What is the purpose of the discussion?
  2. What are the basic issues to be discussed?
  3. What are the ground rules of the discussion session?
  4. What type of report to the class, written assignment or follow-up is needed?


A handout or overhead is useful for laying a foundation for a discussion. Before starting a discussion, it will help to clarify the following:

  1. To start the lesson, try some synonyms for "discuss": argue, debate, converse about, talk over, exchange views on, discourse about, review, dispute, inquire, examine, deconstruct.
  2. To keep a discussion going, the leader may shift roles to one of the following:
  • leads
  • steers
  • conducts
  • encourages
  • guides
  • advances
  • controls
  • stimulates
  1. How can you encourage students to take some responsibilities for making the discussion meaningful and worth­ while?

Some Characteristics of a Good Discussion

An effective discussion will normally reflect many of the following characteristics:

  1. Value and capitalize on the diversity of the groups’ membership
  2. Broaden and develop understanding of the topic
  3. Lead to a realization of the importance and relevance of the topic
  4. Be interesting and lively
  5. Maintain a focus
  6. Reach closure
  7. Provide enlarged and enlightened experiences
  8. Respect the internal dynamics of the group and employ good manners
  9. Begin with a starting mechanism (activity, artifact, quotation, opinion, or question)
  10. Involve everyone as an active participant
  11. Generate several critical approaches to the subject

At the End of Your Discussion Lesson: Feedback

Evaluate the discussion by asking the group to list three ways they could improve the discussions. Ask each student to designate which is the most important idea for improvement.

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