3 strategies for promoting discussion in college classes

by Huishan Wang
Master’s student, University of Florida

When I taught class in Mass Communication Teaching, we talked about the experience we’ve had with class discussions, the relationship between discussion and active learning, and the advantages and disadvantages of discussion.

To demonstrate one discussion strategy, I used an activity — the Fishbowl — to discuss more about the discussion teaching strategy.

Use Fishbowl strategy as way to encourage discussion

The class was divided into two groups. Three of the class were with me in the inner circle (the Fishbowl), and the others were in the outer circle. The inner circle participated in the discussion that I led, while the class members in the outer circle took notes based on the discussion, which included noting the discussion’s content, any problems or things are interesting to them, or any comment on this Fishbowl activity.

The inner cycle discussed reasons for students to be nonparticipants that can because of both the students and the teacher. The members of inner circle were experienced teachers. We talked about the experience of having nonparticipants in discussions and shared strategies used to break the silence that can happen in discussions and deal with nonparticipants.

Promote discussion by being sure class understands the questions you ask

One of inner circle members, suggested that when there were no participants in her class, she first would clarify her question. She would ask students whether they understood the question and would give an example to illustrate or clarify.

Talk individually with international students to encourage them to participate

Also, we discussed how to help international students get used to participating in the discussion. For instance, the teacher could meet with the international student. That would help the teacher know better about student’s culture, language ability, personality, which can tell the teacher how to encourage the to participate into a discussion.

At the end of class, the outer circle of students shared their notes and commented on this activity. Most of them thought Fishbowl was a good discussion activity that could be applied into both small-size and large-size class. One of the outer circle students said that she felt like an outsider. She suggested that if groups could be exchangeable, the activity would be better.


Huishan Wang is a master’s student at the University of Florida  and a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930).


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