Facilitating a small group discussion — whether it’s with other teachers or with students — can be approached as both an art and a science. It’s important to keep discussions constructive, but also have an element of fun. Some simple guidelines can be adapted and followed by a facilitator or teacher to ensure discussions are fruitful, open and provide an equal chance for everybody to participate.
Generally, we can break down any discussion into three main parts: An introduction, the core discussion and the conclusion. Here in part one, we’ll cover how the facilitator can set the discussion tone before the discussion gets underway.
Follow these simple tips for an introduction to a small group discussion:
A facilitator with a carefully thought out introduction will help to establish the quality and tone of the discussion. The group should feel that their ideas are welcome and that they can trust each other. Begin by setting ground rules like these:
- Ideally the group should be seated in a circle, facing one another. If that is not possible, such as in a classroom with bolted chairs, the group leader can walk among the group to give an air of inclusion to the speaker.
- Consider introductory exercises if group members do not know each other.
- Everyone is expected to speak and contribute.
- Listen carefully to others, even if they disagree.
- One person should speak at a time, without interruptions.
- No one is allowed to ridicule or make fun of another person’s ideas.
The above tips emphasize members listening and being able to speak up during a discussion. Teachers who want to inculcate a sense of listening in their students may be inspired by community circles for this elementary level initiative: How to Bring Listening Circles to Your Class.
In part 2, we’ll continue to provide tips for the core discussion and its conclusion.