Possible Discussion Format Options

Congratulations on being selected as a convener for an ACRL Instruction Section discussion forum for the ALA conference. We hope that you will enjoy exploring your issue with colleagues and that everyone who participates will benefit.

As the convener, you will determine the design of the discussion forum that you prefer. For example, you may want to plan for one large group brainstorming, small group discussions focused on the same questions, small group discussions focused on different questions, etc.

Below are some options to consider when planning the design of your discussion:

Brainstorming, Small then Large Groups — Participants sit at small discussion group tables around the room. Small groups discuss the first question/issue for a set amount of time (e.g., 20 minutes) and then each small group reports back 1-3 major ideas. This process is repeated for each discussion point.

Fishbowl Technique — Conveners set up an inner circle of chairs and a bigger outer circle of chairs. Participants start in the inner circle and begin the discussion. Anyone that wants to talk has to take the place of someone in the “fishbowl” inner circle.

Free Discussion — This can be done in small groups or with the larger group. “As it is not structured this sort of discussion may require some more facilitation. This can be the teacher or session leader for the whole group but if there are a number of groups staffing may not allow a facilitator for each group. In this case one option may be to ask one of the [participants] to act as a facilitator [snip]…” (Source: Debate and Discussion Formats)

Hot Seat: “This format calls for the moderator to be well informed about the subject being covered in the discussion. It usually helps to be prepared ahead of time with source materials covering the main points or issues that might help steer the discussion in the preferred or pre-agreed direction. They keep the discussion on track by asking the questions that they feel will cover the important aspects of the subject while still encouraging free thought and discussion from the other participants.” (Source: Types of Discussion Forums)

Jigsaw Method — “A cooperative learning model in which students are assigned to six-member teams to work on academic material that has been broken down into sections for each member.” (Source: Slavin Online Glossary of Education).  They then report back to the large group on their section so that together all the teams construct the whole subject.

Presentation followed by Discussion — If conveners are presenting a relatively new, innovative concept, they may wish to provide a 20-minute presentation to give participants a more general understanding of the issue. The remainder of the time can then incorporate discussion-orientated strategies (small group brainstorming, “think-pair-share,” etc.) to engage participants in the topic.

Rotating Stations — “Locate each small group at a station where they are given 10 minutes to discuss a provocative issue and record their ideas on [the flip chart]. When this time is up the groups move to new stations in the [discussion space] where they continue their discussion, based on the ideas they encounter from the previous group. Rotations continue every 10 minutes until each group has been at all of the positions and has had a chance to consider all of the other groups’ comments.” (Source: Guide to Classroom Discussions)

Scenarios/Case Studies — Provide participants with a “local” example of a concept/theory/issue/topic being covered in the discussion. Participants discuss and analyze the scenario/case (provided by facilitator), applying the information covered in a presentation to some situation they may encounter outside of the workshop. Participants can briefly present their findings to other small groups or to the whole group or simply record ideas on an overhead/white board so that workshop leader can draw questions and synthesis from the material. Participants can also develop (individually, in pairs, groups) their own work-based case studies and exchange them with others for discussion and analysis. (Source: Some Basic Active Learning Exercises)

Think-Pair-Share — Pose a question or issue to the participants for them to contemplate on their own, then have them pair up and share their thoughts or solution with someone nearby. Each pair can then share their ideas with the larger group.

Throughout the process, it is important to maintain communication with your liaison in the Discussion Group Steering Committee. Ask us anything!

Works Consulted:

Cavanagh, C. (2001, Summer). Guide to classroom discussions. Retrieved February 23, 2007, fromhttp://www.unf.edu/~ccavanau/GuidetoClassroomDiscussions.htm

Debate and discussion formats. (n.d.). Retrieved February 23, 2007, from http://www.at-bristol.co.uk/cz/teachers/Debate%20formats.pdf

Michigan State University, Virtual University Design and Technology. (2006, December 14). Types of discussion formats. Retrieved February 23, 2007, from http://vudat.msu.edu/forum_types/

National Institute for Science Education. (1997, November 11). Think-pair-share. Retrieved February 23, 2007, fromhttp://www.wcer.wisc.edu/archive/CL1/CL/doingcl/thinkps.htm

Saskatoon Public School Division. (2003, October). The jigsaw method. Retrieved February 23, 2007, fromhttp://olc.spsd.sk.ca/DE/PD/coop/page4.html

Slavin, R. E. (n.d.). Slavin online glossary. Retrieved February 23, 2007, from http://www.abacon.com/slavin/glossary.html

University of Minnesota, Center for Teaching and Learning (2006, January 9). Some basic active learning strategies. Retrieved February 23, 2007, from http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/tutorials/active/strategies.html

Note: As of March 1, 2019 this document is no longer being updated.