If you’ve ever led a small-group discussion, you’ve probably experienced the group that is reluctant to answer questions or join in a discussion. School teachers face this dilemma daily.
From a recent article in Faculty Focus, author Maryellen Weimer, Ph.D. offers several tips to encourage the “Art of Asking Questions:”
Don’t ask open-ended questions when you know the answer you’re looking for. Sometimes students offer answers but they aren’t the ones the teacher wanted to hear. If you aren’t getting the answer you want, don’t play the “try to guess the answer I have in mind” game. It reinforces the idea that the question has one answer that the teacher thinks is the right or best answer. If the teacher has the answer, students are quick to conclude it’s the definitive right answer, and that makes it an answer that they won’t spend any time thinking about.
Here are two more tips to encourage discussion:
Write out specific discussion questions in advance
One of the tips in the article above is to plan questions as you prepare for class. Thinking of questions off the cuff works sometimes, but often leads to shallow discussion. I also find that if I do not have specific questions prepared in advance, I find myself lecturing too much and discussing too little.
Provide the class with key questions up front
Consider identifying the key questions up front so group members have an opportunity to think of their answers throughout the class. Then as the class progresses, raise each question and encourage discussion.
Can you share any ideas for encouraging discussion in your small group?