Language of Discussion

While many international students have studied English for a number of years, they may not be familiar with the expectations for discussion in a US academic context. As an instructor, there are several things that can be done to help students adjust to what may be a new classroom culture for them and make them feel more comfortable entering discussions:

  • explaining the reason for and value of classroom discussion
  • presenting the expectations of behavior for classroom discussion (turn-taking, interruption, raising hands, eye contact, body language)
  • giving more wait time to NNS students   

Perhaps most important is providing students with the language to enter a discussion. Because they may have little prior experience speaking or discussing in English, joining a discussion in an American university classroom might seem like jumping onto a moving train. Having "entry" phrases can make this easier because it helps students have more time to formulate their ideas while also offering structure for them.

What follows are examples of language that instructors can share with NS and NNS students to facilitate both civil and effective communication of ideas:

Expressing an opinion
I think/believe that ...
From what I understand ...
As I understand it ...
This is due to ...
Because ...
What I mean is ...
From what I've read I think...

Citing evidence
This can be seen by ...
For instance ...
For example ...
An example can be seen ...
(Author's name) states/suggests that ...
The statistics seem to indicate that ...
I think what (author's name) may actually be suggesting is… 
Another study shows that ...

Asking for an opinion
Do you think/believe that…?
What do you think of…?
How do you feel about…?
Would you ever consider…?

Asking for clarification
What I hear you saying is…
What I think you’re saying is…
Are you saying…?
Do you mean…?
My understanding of what you’re saying is…
Correct me if I’m wrong, but are you saying…?
I’m not sure I’ve understood your argument. Do you mean…?
I'm not sure what you're asking. Could you repeat that?

Acknowledge someone's thoughts/ ideas....    then explaining why you disagree
I can see your point - however, that's not always the case because ...
That's a good point, but that's not necessarily true because ...
I see what you're getting at, but, this idea isn't supported by statistics/ evidence ...
I see where you're coming from, but I thought the author meant that ...
I see what you mean - however, have you considered…
What you say may be true, but… 
That sounds fair/reasonable, but…

Holding the floor
Well...
What I'm trying to say is...
I'm not sure, but...
That's not exactly what I meant...
Okay, so...

Asking for more time
I don't have an answer for that right now.
Could you come back to me?
I'll need to think about that some more.
I'm not sure what I think about this.
I'm not sure I can answer that.
I don't think I understood the question/concept correctly.