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Pros and Cons of Classroom Group Discussions

Updated on April 30, 2017
btrbell profile image

Randi has worked in both traditional and non-traditional high schools for 17 years and ESL for 10 years. She has also taught CE classes.

Learning isn't always about writing it down!
Learning isn't always about writing it down! | Source

I taught special education for 17 years and ESL for another 10 years. Some of my best teaching opportunities have stemmed from whole classroom discussions. The number of students in the class helps to determine their success, but more importantly, the ability of the facilitator will be the determining factor. The facilitator should be well prepared and aware that conversations can go in an entirely different direction than originally planned. In my experience, those have been some of the most memorable classroom experiences that I have had. But, if there is a specific direction/conclusion that you are hoping to get to, you must know how to lead them there.

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

— Benjamin Franklin

Pros

  • It is interactive.
  • It enables students to pay attention and be involved.
  • It teaches students to speak in a group.
  • It helps students articulate ideas.
  • It is a change from traditional learning methods.
  • They will learn to evaluate and respond to their classmates' opinions.
  • Encourages all students to have a voice

Cons

  • It is easy to get side-tracked.
  • It can cause conflict within the class if opposing opinions are given.
  • This will be harder for the non auditory learners to absorb.
  • Note taking can be more difficult, especially when trying to follow the thread of conversation.
  • Some students will dominate the conversation.
  • Insecure students may have a difficult time speaking up.

A mixed media classroom discussion.
A mixed media classroom discussion. | Source

Applying Learning Styles to Classroom Discussions

By now, we probably all know that there are 3 different types of learners:

  1. Auditory. They learn best by hearing. They would rather listen to an explanation.
  2. Visual/Reading. They learn best by seeing. They would rather look at an explanation through books or charts.
  3. Kinesthetic. They learn best through touch. They would rather "do" something "hands-on."

Most people are a combination of the 3 types. You are probably wondering what this has to do with group conversations. It actually has quite a bit to do with it. Generally, a classroom discussion is conducted without many other tools than the moderator's questions. It helps if there are some visuals for the students to get a "picture" of what they are discussing. It is also a good idea to provide a summary afterward so the "note takers" won't feel a compulsive need to write the entire conversation down and miss participating in it.

VARK Learning Syles

Although this article's main focus is classroom discussion, they are only a part of the learning process. Please check out Vark, a comprehensive website to get more insight on the different learning styles of your students.

Learning Styles

Do you know which type of learner you are?

See results

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.

— Brad Henry

Recognizing and Teaching to Learning Styles

When my daughter finished kindergarten, I attended a mandatory parent meeting. The team of first and second-grade teachers were all there, and all had an opportunity to speak. Their excitement while illustrating the 3 different ways to learn was as big an influence on the decision process as the offerings themselves.

  1. The traditional classroom style.
  2. The combined first and second-grade classroom.
  3. The traditional style but the homeroom teacher moves up with them to the next two levels.

There are advantages and disadvantages in each of these methods and as each child is an individual so should your choice be. My takeaway was that the school was meeting the individual needs of their students and families. There was a learning style for everyone. That being said, I think this holds true with classroom lectures and discussions, both in small and large groups. It is good and important to mix it up in the classroom. It promotes critical thinking and analytical skills. It also prepares them to operate in different types of environments.

Resources

Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom
Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom

There are many good books that can help you moderate good classroom discussions. This is a college level book. It includes methods that encourage critical thinking through discussion and debate. I found this especially useful while preparing 12th grade students for university. It was successful enough that I incorporated the ideas for my younger students, as well. I was also able to apply this in my adult continuing education classes. I found they were much more engaged when the discussion was flowing.

 

Learn More About Whole Group Discussions

© 2013 Randi Benlulu

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      All good points, Randi! I always enjoyed the classroom discussions when I was teaching high school and middle school, and the kids loved them too...but they do take some preparation and ground rules at that age level.

    • Missy Mac profile image

      Missy Mac 4 years ago from Illinois

      Great Hub! Classroom discussions is an excellent strategy for assessing learner knowledge. Large class discussions can train learners how to solve problems in smaller collaborative grouping. Thanks

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thanks, Bill! I was hoping you'd hop on! I have had some great experiences and a few backfires!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      Though those days are far away..a group does get kids to participate..especially if they think they may be called on..Great job.Voting up and sharing...

    • livelifeworryfree profile image

      Princess Clark 4 years ago from The DMV

      Great hub! I have always participated in classroom discussions and know that are invaluable. I'm a mom of not-so-assertive children who used to abhor this style of learning however because they were exposed to it very early on in their education they now thrive. They are still very shy but they have learned to pushed through their shyness to engage because of this structure. I believe everyone benefits when everyone gets an opportunity to engage.

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Hi Missy Mac, thanks for stopping by and for your generous comments! I look forward to checking out your hubs!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. Though I worked with adult I found group discussion a very effective way of teaching masonic theory and philosophy.

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Carol, yes, here too but I think you can apply it to any group discussion situation. Thanks for the votes and share!

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Princess! I appreciate the feedback. I am glad it helped your kids. Confidence and self-esteem are so important for them!

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Hey Martin, thank you for being such a staunch supporter!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      A great hub once again Randi ;keep them coming .

      Here's to so many more hubs for us both to share on here.I vote up,across and share.

      Have a great day.

      Eddy.

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Eddy, you are the best and I agree: Here's to many more hubs to share! Let's hope for a prolific 2013! Thank you! xo

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 4 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Hello btrbell. You have presented much to ponder. Not having that formal experience other than as a student I feel it is interesting and intriguing. I gave consideration to elementary and special needs teaching once. This article gives cause to maybe guest speaking and seminar style learning / teaching experiences at the local level - high school, community college, and maybe the local university too. Thanks for the idea!

    • profile image

      Frank 4 years ago

      Hello or 'yo' in youth terms. I admire this article and found it very marveling and inquisitive. Keep up the good work and i hope that the science of love and life works out for you all. Thank you from Frank over and out

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 4 years ago from South Africa

      btrbell, this is a much-needed comprehensive report about group class discussions, with facts only to be obtained through experience by those who have not studied Education and a bit Psychology.

      I was one of those 'Some students will dominate the conversation.' But truly spontaneous and not at all aware of the teacher's dilemma or any insecure kids, not to talk about any with non-auditory problems. So I was often - too often - ignored and even humiliated with snotty remarks such as, 'We know Martie knows everything and she talks too much' - and this was not at all educational, but rather a devastating blow to my self-esteem. I've lost either interest in the specific subjects, or I've developed an obsession to know all the answers. Reviewing, I realize that some, if not most, teachers were in fact afraid of me, because I've confronted them with questions they were not able to answer.

      Anyway, as you've said, the power to make a success of open discussions is absolutely in the hands of the teacher/facilitator. We can but only hope that THEY know what they're doing.

      Great hub, voted up!

    • profile image

      the shadow 4 years ago

      Hello MartieC . . . Just kidding about (tsmog). I admire what you shared courageously. Like yourself I found myself in the playground when a lad beat up and crying. I learned A's were okay, as long as there was a 'C' or two too. Seems I chose English as a lad for those C's. While remembering to get a high B in Math or low A.

      I can hear my mom now asking "don't you have any homework?"

      I reply, "Nope, I did it already."

      While the truth be I never did it. I relied on memory and notes. A guaranteed C or B. Then I got chosen on a team and not have to play four square with the girls. Kid stuff, eh? I probably learned more from the girls anyway . . . TG for CO-ED today!

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Martie, thank you so much for bringing up a valuable aspect. The fact that the child who has all the answers is also sensitive and should never be stifled. It's a tough balancing act. Thank you for voting and sharing!

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Tsmog, thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I am flattered that this article gave you the opportunity to ponder! Good luck in whichever way you choose to go, and most importantly, enjoy.

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Hi Frank! Thank you. Your comments are truly appreciated!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Randi-I can concur that the facilitator needs to be on top of the game! I used to run groups in the psych unit and all it took was one dominant patient to throw it off. Great job here, explaining the important points. UP/I/U and sharing.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 4 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      This hub reflects your own considerable experience and has some very useful points to make,especially with regards to learning styles and achieving balance so that, ideally, all students leave the class knowing they have given of their best.

      It can be exhausting work for the teacher! But as you mention, being ready and prepared for a full blown discussion is vital and gives you better chances of success. I try to have an emergency strategy or two up my sleeve just in case the discussion implodes or flies off a tangent!

      Many thanks.

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Denise! I appreciate your stopping by and your votes and share.

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      It is always best to be on our toes and prepared no matter what the lesson plan. However, the discussion is prime territory for things to go off on a tangent. That is one of the things I love about teaching. There are so many teachable moments. I often will have my students do work (answer questions, fill out a chart) before the discussion. That way, everyone has to think about the topic and participate in some way. Plus, then no one is caught off guard when it comes time to contribute. Great discussion here. :)

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you so much, donnah75! I appreciate your stopping by and commenting:)

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Chef de jour, thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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