What is a silent discussion?
Instructor and students engage with instructor-provided discussion questions as well as the responses from peers and instructor without speaking. The discussion takes the form of branching written responses and questions that occur on large pieces of paper.
Why might you use a silent discussion?
A silent discussion possesses many benefits, including:
- Centering students as engines of learning rather than the instructor
- Running several conversations simultaneously
- Giving students choice with regards to which conversation/s to join
- Promoting direct peer-to-peer engagement through comments and questions
- Presenting an opportunity to deconstruct the elements of a productive and/or unproductive conversation
- Making concrete what effective or ineffective written dialogue looks like in order to transfer these lessons to spoken dialogue in class
How to facilitate a silent discussion
- Before class, the instructor prints discussion questions and tapes them to large pieces of paper or classroom whiteboard/s.
- Once class begins, the instructor explains how discussion works:
- Students and the instructor take a pen or pencil – which the instructor may need to provide – and walk from discussion question to discussion question, providing answers to the discussion question or responding to someone else’s question.
- Little to no talking should occur, though a student can vocally indicate to a classmate or instructor that he/she/they addressed a comment.
- Students are encouraged to place their initials after each response.
- The instructor can end the discussion by highlighting important exchanges or asking follow-up questions. Additionally, it’s recommended to debrief on what made a successful “conversation” occur on one of the tables. That way, students can get a visual representation of effective peer-to-peer discussion that can transfer to vocalized class discussions.
*Note: instructors teaching in active learning classrooms that include tables with whiteboard surfaces can hold the entire discussion on the tops of the tables using whiteboard markers.
Additional resources on facilitating discussions can be found at the following: