Look for common problems that arise in class discussions to determine which intervention is best.


  • Common issues that may arise during classroom discussions and suggestions for how to deal with them
    • No one is talking or it is hard to get people talking.
      • Craft your discussion prompt carefully (see related tips).
      • Put your discussion prompt on the screen or write it on the board.
      • Give students some private think time before asking for responses. If a question is worth discussing, then it is worth thinking about before speaking
      • Be comfortable with silence. Don’t continually repeat and rephrase your question, since this might just confuse students.
      • Try “think pair share” (See related tip)
    • Serious disagreement occurs and there are hurt feelings.
      • Encourage students who have hurt feelings to say “ouch” or point out that the disagreement has caused hurt feelings.
      • If the student who is hurt isn’t speaking up, you might say “If I put myself in the position of ___, I think I would be hurt by what you just said because ___.”
      • Encourage students to ask clarifying questions of each other, or model it for them: “Can you clarify what you meant when you said ___?”
      • Be careful not to ignore the hurt feelings as that can signal that you don’t really care about the hurt feelings. The first step is to get the person who caused the hurt to acknowledge that hurt was caused–separate intent from impact to avoid the student from becoming defensive.
    • A student is not cooperative and doesn’t follow the ground rules.
      • Assuming that everyone has already listened to the ground rules and agreed to them, then the first time this occurs, refer back to the ground rules and check that everyone understands and agrees to them.
      • If a student still doesn’t cooperate, consider meeting with the student after class to discuss whether s/he understands and agrees to the ground rules and what is motivating their behavior. If the student doesn’t agree to the ground rules, ask the student to contribute alterantive ground rules that everyone could live with.
    • A student is quiet or non-participatory.
      • Don’t assume reasons for the student’s non-participation. It could be because the student is sick or is preoccupied by something completely unrelated to the course.
      • During class you can always say “We’ve heard a lot from certain people today and I’m wondering if we can create space for other people who haven’t spoken yet to make their voices heard.”
      • If you are concerned, you can always speak to the student after class, but again, don’t assume too much about what is going on. Ask if there is anything you could have done to encourage him/her to speak more in class.