Tips on Teaching

In-class Discussions

by Konnor Brennan, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

In-class discussions are one of the most frequently used pedagogical activities. While they are very popular in classrooms, most instructors know that implementing an effective and productive discussion takes time and planning.

Designing and implementing an effective discussion activity can sometimes be challenging. One of the key components of good discussion is active engagement by the students, which cannot always be guaranteed. Discussion activities also require the instructor to relinquish some of the control over the content and direction of the class. This leaves the door open for some discussions to go on tangents or in directions the instructor is not prepared for.

Here are some tips for designing and implementing effective discussions.

  1. Start by looking at the learning objectives of the course/class to see if any would be best achieved through a discussion activity. Some impromptu discussions can feel unorganized or can appear to lack a clear goal to the students. By designing the discussion activity around the learning objectives, the instructor can ensure that the discussion has a clear goal and direction that is apparent to the students.
  2. If discussion activities will be large part of the course the instructor might consider using discussions early and often in the course. In doing so, the students can get comfortable with sharing their ideas with their peers, and be more likely to participate.
  3. Summarize the main points of the discussion for the class. Due to the open-endedness of some discussion types, there is a chance the conversation could get off topic. If so, it is a good idea to summarize the main points of the discussion for the class to make sure the students leave with the information the instructor intended.

In-class discussion activities can be incredibly effective when designed and implemented with intent and the goals are clearly communicated with the students. The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning offers many resources and services for instructors interested in this or other teaching topics. Email us at with questions or use our Google form to set up a consultation.



Brookfield, S., & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Huang, L. S. (2005). Fine-tuning the craft of teaching by discussion. Business Communication Quarterly.