How to Prepare for a Discussion Day
A popular perception is that class discussions are off-the-cuff and require little preparation, but your discussion classes will go much more smoothly if you prepare yourself and your students. Here are a few things you should do to prepare for class:
Read the text looking for discussion questions. As you read/view/listen to the text for the final time before class, your main goal should be to generate discussion questions. Write down the questions and the place(s) in the text to which they refer, and, assuming it’s a print text, mark the text clearly. Have more questions than you can possibly use in case some of them bomb. Make sure they are good discussion questions. Good questions require students to analyze and/or evaluate the text rhetorically; have no right or wrong answer, but instead allow students to form an interpretation, or solve a problem, using textual evidence as support; aren’t too abstract—students understand what you’re asking and possess the relevant knowledge/experience needed to formulate a response; and draw on different parts of the course, requiring students to make connections.
Contextualize the text prior to assigning it. Your students will comprehend the text more fully, and thus will be better prepared to discuss it, if they know something about its argument and main ideas, its style and structure, its author, the cultural situation in which it was written, its reception and post-publication history, its continued relevance, etc.
Give your students a specific reading task. Research shows that expert readers usually have a clear sense of what they want to get from a text, so have your students look for something specific. You might give students a discussion question, as described above, prior to reading. You might require that students themselves generate discussion questions that they submit to you before class. You might have students look for, and prepare to talk about, a specific rhetorical element, such as the text’s central argument, its use of evidence, its treatment of opposing views, the ways the author comes across, its appeals to audience values, etc.
Know the text cold. No matter how many times you’ve read/viewed/listened to the text you’re going to discuss, do it again just before class. You’ll feel more confident; you’ll be better able to clarify students’ miscomprehensions of the text; you’ll have a better chance of locating those places in the text that students want to reference but only vaguely remember; you’ll see more connections between different parts of the text; and you’ll establish credibility with your students by demonstrating a thorough knowledge of the text.
- Justifying class discussion to students