Structuring Class Discussions

Online discussions are more productive with a protocol that guides the interaction. Structure is important because online discussions are usually asynchronous with no nonverbal cues that facilitate face-to-face exchanges. However, in-class discussions would likely benefit from more structure, too.

Starter and Wrapper
Both online and in-class, assign 1-2 students to begin with a “starter”, which is a question, quotation, or comment about an example in the text or links between current and previous readings. In the end, 1-2 different students give “wrappers” that identify themes, pull out key ideas, or list the next questions to explore.

Save the Last Word for Me
Have students post a concept from the reading they would like to understand better. Online or in-class, have other students offer their ideas, interpretations, and understandings of the concept. After a set time, the first student explains what he or she learned from the discussion. Finally, create a low- or no-stakes assessment in which each student picks one of the concepts the class discussed and writes briefly about their understanding of it now.

Adapted from Maryellen Weimer, PhD