Discussion, or conversation, is a key learning method in Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL). One goal of discussion is to encourage balanced participation among students. A good discussion requires the teacher to be a listener and a "weaver," taking the thoughts of different students and weaving them into a coherent pattern. The ultimate goal is for students themselves to become such "weavers."
- to find out what students know about a topic
- to develop discussion skills, i.e. listening and speaking
- to give students practice in formulating a position and defending it with evidence
Set the following rules for students at the start. You can then point to them if needed during a heated discussion.
- Listen carefully to others and wait until they have finished.
- Feel free to disagree with others' views, but treat them and their views with respect.
Provide a clear focus by posting one, or all, of the following on the board:
- the question(s) to be discussed;
- the objective of the discussion;
- the desired outcome of the discussion.
Use a question, photo, story, statement, video, writing exercise or any other appropriate stimulus to generate a discussion.
Leading the group
- Allow students time to think about what they want to say. If they have first written down their thoughts, they are likely to be better prepared when it is time to speak.
- Acknowledge contributions. It is helpful to record key points on the board for summary and analysis.
- Encourage students to join the discussion by inviting them to contribute further thoughts of their own or by asking whether they agree or disagree with others in the group.
- Encourage students to talk to one another instead of directing all their comments to you.
Dealing with difficulties
While leading discussions, remember these four tips:
- In case someone gives incorrect information, first judge whether the error is important. If it is, ask other students for their views but in a way that does not discourage the original speaker. Alternatively, provide the correct information yourself.
- If students are reluctant to speak, remind them that the goal is to explore ideas and points of view, not to come up with "correct" answers.
- If the discussion becomes disorderly, remind students of the two rules you set out at the start.
- If a few students do most of the talking, call on other students to contribute or ask those who have been quiet to read from their reflective writing. (See Teaching method 7: Writing and reflecting.)
What if the discussion turns to sensitive political issues or to religious or cultural beliefs and practices? If this happens, it may reflect students' commitment to familiar interests, concerns, or experiences. If the discussion is relevant to the study of EHL, you can devote in-class time to more exploration, develop an extension activity for the class, or encourage students to undertake independent research. If the discussion is not relevant to the in-class study of EHL, you can discuss the topic privately outside class to help those students think through their ideas. You might suggest an independent research project on that particular issue.
Assessing student learning
- Were students able to identify and share their knowledge?
- Did students listen and respond to one another's ideas?
- What key ideas or disagreements emerged?
- How can you build on the discussion for the next lesson?