Planning Effective Class Discussions

In this module, faculty learn how to write well-sequenced, thought-provoking questions to increase student engagement in class discussions. The module helps instructors effectively set expectations for participation, explain the role of discussion for positively impacting learning, and develop an effective grading policy. Faculty will also learn how to leverage class discussion so students come to class prepared and having done the assigned reading or homework.

To satisfy the module requirements, practicing faculty must apply at least one technique, such as sequencing questions to progress toward higher order thinking, developing a grading policy for participation, or assigning students a self-grading activity.

This module is one of six modules under ACUE’s unit on Using Active Learning Techniques.

Advising Subject Matter Expert

Jay Howard
Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Professor, Sociology
Butler University

Module References

Auster, C. J., & MacRone, M. (1994). The classroom as a negotiated social setting: An empirical study of the effects of faculty members’ behavior on students’ participation. Teaching Sociology, 22, 289–300.

Barkley, E. F., Major, C. H., & Cross, K. P. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Barton, J., Heilker, P., & Rutkowski, D. (n.d.). Fostering effective classroom discussions. Retrieved from

Baxter, J., & Ter Bush, R. (2010). Discussions. Retrieved from

Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED340272)

Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cashin, W. E. (2011). Effective classroom discussions (Idea Paper #49). Retrieved from

Cerbin, B. (2010, April 23). Collaborative learning techniques workshop handouts. Center for Advancing Teaching & Learning, UW-La Crosse. Retrieved from

Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Doyle, T. (2008). Helping students learn in a learner-centered environment: A guide to facilitating learning in higher education. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Elkenberry, K. (2007). Brainstorming strategies: Seven questions that spur better solutions. Retrieved from

Howard, J. R. (2015). Discussion in the college classroom: Getting your students engaged and participating in person and online. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ito, C. (2014). Techniques for active learning. Retrieved from

Karp, D. A., & Yoels, W. C. (1976). The college classroom: Some observations on the meanings of student participation. Sociology and Social Research, 60, 421–439.

Knight, J. (2013). High-impact instruction: A framework for great teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Novak, G. M., Patterson, E. T., Gavrin, A. D., & Christian, W. (1999). Just-in-Time teaching: Blending active learning with web technology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Rotenberg, R. L. (2010). The art & craft of college teaching: A guide for new professors & graduate students (2nd ed.). Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Sidelinger, R. (2010). College student involvement: An examination of student characteristics and perceived instructor communication behaviors in the classroom. Communication Studies, 61, 87–103.

Wieman, C. (2010). Basic instructor habits to keep students engaged. Retrieved from the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia website:>