Leading a Discussion

Whole Group Discussions

Productive learning strategies involve everyone in planning and activities, whether it's a discussion among your team about goals or a brainstorming session among students planning a video project. Here are some meaningful ground rules for leading a discussion:

Preparing Questions for Discussions:

  1. Know your purpose. Is the goal to arrive at a decision or merely to brainstorm possible ideas that will be revisited?
  2. Select a topic. It may be a statement, picture, video, text from content, equation, etc. Evaluate to ensure it is not too general to meet your goal.
  3. For student-generated questions utilize the QFT process:
    1. What is QFT? - Question Formulation Technique - Explanation of the steps and videos demonstrating its use in the classroom.
    2. Experiencing the Question Formulation Technique - An explanation and step-by-step instructions for the process
    3. Right Questions - Educational Leadership - An Explanation of the process
  4. Teaching Channel has published a blog series that showcases teachers across the United States who use the Question Formulation Technique (QFT). The blog series features educators from the lower-elementary grades through community college. It includes insights from science, history, English, library, and math teachers showing how the effectiveness of the QFT in the classroom is lived out in these educational settings.
  5. If the questions are generated by the leader, ensure that the majority are open-ended. Open and Closed-Ended Questions - Explanation and sign language for nonverbal communication of ‘open’ and ‘closed’
  6. Questioning Resources- includes Questioning strategies for Socratic Questioning, the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, the Six Questions, Quotes, Music, and other materials

Tips for Questioning:

  1. Avoid generic questions and prepare some open-ended questions in advance which may lead to more spontaneous questions later.
  2. Make sure everyone is prepared. For example, everyone has received the handouts, read the story/text to be discussed, or able to see the visual, etc.
  3. Leaders (teacher or student) only ask questions, respond encouragingly to all ideas being offered, and do not give answers.
    1. Example: If an incorrect or unrelated answer is given, a possible response might be: “I like the thinking you’re demonstrating.” (It might be necessary to reword the question for more clarity.)
  4. Opinions should always be supported with evidence. If you're discussing a book, for example, ask follow-up questions to guide the students in finding supporting details.
  5. Maintain a high energy level and enthusiasm. It's contagious!


    Whenever possible and appropriate, use techniques like mind mapping to provide a conceptual, visual structure to ideas being given. Let others see their thoughts and ideas being written on the map.

    1. Concept Maps or Mind Maps - Includes interactive templates for simple mind maps.
    2. Mindmapfree - Free resource for creating a mind map
    3. Popplet - Popplet is an easy to use tool for the iPad and web creating mind maps to capture and organize ideas (includes a Free version)
    4. The 5 Best Free Mind Mapping Tools for Teachers
    5. Mind Maps - Multiple mind maps for goal setting, general use, as well as other online tools to use for brainstorming, planning, and evaluating.
    6. Teaching Learners to Ask Their Own Questions - includes multiple online resources
    7. Procedure for Asking and Answering Questions in Complete sentences