Classroom Discussions

Share responsibility for including all voices …
Listen respectfully …
Be open to changing your perspective ...

Instructors across U-M use guidelines such as these to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and collaborative inquiry in their courses.  Sometimes called 'ground rules,' community agreements, or participation norms (and there are several fuller examples below), such guidelines can be provided by an instructor or generated collaboratively with students.  In any discipline, guidelines can support a series of inclusive teaching goals:  they help clarify expectations, cultivate a sense of belonging among students, and facilitate students’ ability to engage productively with one another across their differences.  

On this page, we offer questions to consider when developing guidelines for your particular teaching setting, several examples of guidelines, and ideas about how to make use of guidelines over the course of the term

Questions and Considerations Read more »


With the beginning of the semester just around the corner, many instructors are strategizing about how best to start productive classroom conversations. Students who speak even briefly at the beginning of a class meeting are more likely to participate in discussions going forward, and a well-chosen icebreaker can help everyone join in. As quick, low-stakes, and often fun activities that involve students at the beginning of a session, icebreakers can be a good way to learn about who's in the classroom, reduce anxiety, and engage all students in thinking together about course content.  

For some ideas of potential icebreakers, see this list of icebreaker activities from Lansing Community College. CRLT also recently polled our Graduate Student Instructional Consultants (GSICs) to gather a list of their favorites. Here are some good ideas we received when we asked the GSICs to "tweet" us a particularly effective icebreaker they have used, seen, or heard about: Read more »


Having trouble getting students to speak up in class? This is one of the most common challenges we hear about when consulting with faculty about their teaching. Below are some resources you might find helpful if you're trying to increase student participation in your classes.

This section of the "Solve a Teaching Problem" tool at Carnegie Mellon's Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence offers a range of teaching strategies to encourage student participation. The site invites teachers first to consider why students might be reluctant to join the conversation (Are they unprepared? unaccustomed to contributing in class? uncomfortable sharing certain kinds of ideas with their peers? unsure what you're looking for as an instructor?) and then suggests tailored solutions. 

Here on the CRLT website, we provide a range of resources to support your success in teaching discussion-based classes. See this page of Discussion-Based Teaching Strategies for ideas about how to get good conversations started, develop a classroom environment in which students engage readily, and manage several issues that can arise in a discussion--from dominators to classroom controversy.   Read more »


How can I heighten student participation in my sections? What are different ways I can plan a discussion and ask questions of students? How can I confront challenges in my classroom discussions? This seminar will provide participants with strategies for addressing these questions in social science and humanities classrooms. Seminar participants will learn and practice techniques for facilitating discussions, managing controversies, asking effective questions, and enhancing student participation.

Event Information
Tue, 02/05/2013 - 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Location (Room): 
CRLT Seminar Room (1013 Palmer Commons)
Sara Crider
Graduate Students and Postdocs Only
Eligible for Certificate: 
Eligible for Graduate Teacher Certificate - Requirement B2

The following guidelines can help instructors facilitate classroom discussion around controversial issues. Whatever the context, it is helpful to structure such discussions in a way that defines boundaries for the process and provides some degree of closure within the classroom. Such discussions are an especially important time to explicitly discuss expectations for respecting a range of perspectives and experiences in the room.

Spontaneous Discussions: Dealing with the Unexpected

It is wise to be prepared to respond to the possibility that a student will raise a controversial issue in class unexpectedly. Immediate response is called for, if only to decide what to do next:

  • Acknowledge the student who raised the issue while noting that students may vary in their responses.
  • Decide whether you are ready and willing to engage with the topic right away.
  • Quickly assess whether the class would like to spend time sharing views about the topic.

If students want to have a dialogue, and you want to wait on it, schedule a discussion for a later class and suggest ways that students could prepare.

Click here for further resources for making the most of 'hot moments' that emerge in your classroom when you do not anticipate them. 

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