Discussion Structure

The structure of a discussion can facilitate or impede participation. Generally, starting in smaller groupings and moving to larger groupings helps students formulate and refine their ideas, and feel more comfortable sharing them. Assigning roles is another effective method of ensuring participation of quieter students or students with language difficulties because it offers them the chance to enter the discussion through the necessity of their role. Online discussion formats also offer a platform for students who might need more time to formulate their thoughts and responses as well as students who might feel shy about sharing opinions in a face-to-face discussion.

Pairs 
• work well after a quick-write on a topic in which students have had a chance to write down their thoughts on a topic 
• to discuss questions that were given on a reading
• to complete a task assigned in class

Small Groups 
• can be the next step after students have worked in pairs
• allow for the assigning of “roles” that encourage and facilitate participation by all
• work well to discuss questions or complete a task

Large Groups
• are the most difficult for NNS students due to the speed and content of the conversation, which can be difficult to process in real-time
• work best when students have first gathered in smaller groups of four or five, then report as a group to the class allowing for more voices to be heard 
• work better when more talkative students are assigned roles that require them to seek opinions of others or note when someone has not been participating and ask questions to draw that person in

Online Discussions
• allow students time to formulate their ideas and questions, which can lead to better participation
• can be tailored to a particular question or task, keeping students on-track and focused
• work well in classes with a high number of NNS students who may not be able to join the discussion when it is live, but have a great deal to say when given time

Assigning Roles
• through roles like facilitator (keeps the discussion moving, brings people in), reflector (paraphrases what others say for understanding), summarizer (summarizes points that have been made for group) students may feel much less intimidated than they would if there were only presenting their own thoughts
• can help keep a balance of voices in any size of discussion group; allows for both talkative and shy students to feel they can be heard and be supported to participate
• group members can be held accountable for their own participation and that of their group mates through peer-assessment of participation or by instructor circulating among groups to listen to their conversations