Skip to main content

Considerations for Writing and Implementing Discussions

Implementing effective discussions involves constructing questions, prompting the conversation, and reviewing/facilitating the dialogue.

As with other learning tools, it is important to apply discussion questions and discussion-based activities in a meaningful and purposeful way. The impact of a discussion question (or DB, based on your implementation format) depends on the activity prompt itself; it is the question that stimulates the learning. Merely providing an opportunity for discussion does not guarantee active participation and valuable interactions that lead to knowledge construction. However, a carefully crafted discussion activity can cultivate learning and foster dynamic conversation.

Conversation prompts can be implemented into our classes in a variety of ways. Questions can be posed in person or digitally, and students can craft their responses before or during class, or in any combination of these. In addition, facilitating student-student interaction and drawing out dialogue can also be done virtually or in-person, asynchronously or in real-time. This kind of discussion flexibility is also well suited to shift between formats. For example, to extend an in-person conversation, you could switch over to an LMS DB forum to continue that dialogue outside of the classroom.

Below, we provide you with some practical considerations when writing and implementing discussion questions in your course. For more advice and tips for discussion-based learning, check out these resources: Chronicle of Higher Education articleWriting Effective Discussion Questions - in a Pinch!Faculty Focus article

1. Determine your purpose or learning objective.

There are several common goals of discussion-based learning practices: social & community building, logistical ease, coordination & support of another class activity, learning specific content.

To enhance social presence and community building, create opportunities for students to get to know each other, promote social interaction and casual conversations, and encourage students to help each other solve problems together during the learning process. For example, self-introductions, resource sharing, study group Q&As, class café, and similar DB forum structures help students get to know each other and encourage them to talk about the course “outside” of class. ( See Samples 1-3).

If your goal is to find a low-maintenance way to support coordination of class tasks, information exchange, and collaboration among students, a DB is a great option. Students can work in groups, share files, and work with each other; classmates can follow and view, post drafts, peer review, and more. This saves you time by eliminating the need to track and collect information from every student to compile and share with the class. Create a DB forum and specify the task students need to complete with a deadline. Students can then enter the DB forum to share and retrieve information as specified. Everything is recorded inside of the DB forum, so you can check the status and results as needed at your convenience. (See Sample 4).

Setting learning objectives to guide your discussion is essential when crafting your discussion questions (for more on linking content to your questions, see consideration 2, below). The Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy Action Verbs (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Figure 1) provides a framework for writing a discussion question (or creating a DB learning activity). Essentially, this framework classifies learning into six cognitive levels in a hierarchy structure (from simple to complex cognitive processing). Because discussions require dynamic dialog, diverse opinions, and critical thinking, consider adopting the higher-level action verbs (focusing on the student’s ability to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create) when writing discussion questions. See Bloom’s revised taxonomy action verbs for more examples. (See Samples 5-10).

Figure 1. Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy Action Verbs (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) 
pyramid with six layers listed top to bottom, 6. Create, 5. Evaluate, 4. Analyze, 3. Apply, 2. Understand, 1. Remember
  1. Put elements together to form a coherent or functional whole, reorganize elements into new pattern or structure.
    • Generating, Planning, Producing.
  2. Make judgment based on criteria and standards.
    • Checking, Critiquing.
  3. Break materials into constituent parts and determine how parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose.
    • Differentiating, Organizing, Attributing.
  4. Carry out or use a procedure in a given situation.
    • Executing, Implementing.
  5. Construct meaning from instructional messages, including oral, written, and graphic communication.
    • Interpreting, Exemplifying, Classifying, Summarizing, Inferring, Comparing, Explaining.
  6. Retrieve Relevant Knowledge from long-term memory.
    • Recognizing, Recalling.

2. Connect to the course content.

Along with designing your discussion questions around your learning goals and objectives, it is important to ensure that your discussion question is relevant to course content or connects with your teaching/course materials (e.g., a textbook chapter, lecture, journal article, case/scenario, website, news, video, or other required material). Course content is the foundation of knowledge; use discussion questions (or DB forums) to demonstrate or practice the mastery of such knowledge through sharing, collaborating, and generating meaningful conversations. (See Samples 6 & 8).

Engaging questions are the key to productive discussions. DB should be interactive and dynamic. If a question or prompt has only one correct answer, it may not be best suited for a DB. Keep questions open-ended, be inclusive, and invite different perspectives, demonstrate relevance, and encourage higher-level thinking. This infographic of writing engaging questions provides more suggestions, including: be clear, be open, dig deeper, be specific, be targeted, be spatial, motivate involvement, be brief, be honest, provide context, demand contemplation, promote positivity, empower, be provocative, and present scenarios or options. ( See Samples 5-10).

3. Choose a format.

There are several DB format considerations: Instructor-led or student-led, entire class or small group, and text, audio, video-based, and more. The instructor-led discussion provides a structure to help students explore a topic or concentrate on key concepts. (See Samples 5-8). Student-led discussion works well in classes with more flexibility and a focus on collaborative learning. ( See Samples 9-11). For a large class, dividing students into small groups can avoid information overload and deepen discussions. ( See Samples 5-10). You can also encourage students to leave audio or video comments if multimedia helps reach the goal or learning objective, e.g., language class, music class, speech class, etc. ( See Samples 1B & 11).

4. Define expectations, set deadlines, and explain grading.

Explain your expectations and provide guidance for students to be successful. Define active participation (quantity, quality, and frequency), specify the required writing style (if any), share writing tips, provide a sample of a good contribution, and a grading rubric. See CMU’s Rubric Repository for rubric samples.

To pace discussions, some instructors prefer to set more than one deadline in a given discussion timeframe to prevent a last-minute posting and rushed replies. For example, this might include an earlier deadline for an original answer to the DB question or prompt and a second deadline for reviewing others’ work and providing constructive feedback.
Remember, the clearer the instructions and expectations, the more they answer student questions (before they are asked!). ( See Sample 12).

Figure 2 is a recap of the considerations outlined above.

Figure 2. Considerations of Writing Discussion Board Questions

Decorative, repeats page content in graphic form

Related Resources