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Engaging Students in Discussions

These activities are designed to help students engage and participate in  discussions. They aim to help advance the high level of critical thinking,  public-speaking-skill development, and engagement that in-class discussions promote. They also help  students partner with teachers for deep learning by stimulating their metacognitive skills to recognize how they are learning and how they can improve. This resource page was created in response to the need for increased course size at the University of Virginia, with the goal of contributing to maintaining our tradition of excellent undergraduate education.

The proposed tasks are predicated on the assumption that student participation goes beyond simply speaking in class to include activities such as these:

  • pre-class preparation (reading, note-taking, thinking, planning)
  • in-class listening in order to truly hear what others are saying and understand them
  • willingness to reconsider one’s ideas
  • courage to speak
  • courage to question others’ ideas respectfully and defend one’s ideas
  • readiness to analyze how one is participating and how to improve


Aspirations for A Great Discussion: a series of questions that build community and consensus
Deep Listening Activity: an informational handout and in-class activity designed to help students listen better and to learn from listening
Forum Goals, Guidelines, Details, with Analysis Activity and Sample Posts: When students write to each other in Forum groups (initial idea from the CTE’s Dorothe Bach), they can build small communities
Sample Good Analyses of Participation by Students
Self Reflective Assessment of Participation: A questionnaire that prompts students to think about the variety of ways in which they participate – and how they can improve
Take-Away Questions: Designed to help students analyze, appreciate, and ultimately improve their work and learning in the course