Student-Led Discussions

Meeting Of Support Group
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During my TESL practicum, I was privileged to work with a wonderful instructor in an EAP class. My practicum supervisor* was great at scaffolding and layering; as the course progressed, each language skill was incorporated into subsequent lesson activities until it all culminated in a final project. The class was in oral skills with the final project being a presentation. Along with using the targeted language from the semester, the presentations also included a focus on appropriate body language, strategies to engage the audience, and the use of technology.

While presentations are common in English language classes, they can be very stressful and time consuming. In order to add variety to the assessments during the course, another activity that was required of the students, and that could easily be adapted for any type of ESL classroom, was leading a discussion group. Not only did we use this in the EAP context, I used the same activity in an EFL class that I taught in Ecuador in which the students were preparing to take the First Cambridge Exam.  Here is how I did it!

Preparing for the discussion

First of all, the main language knowledge and skills that were taught in preparation for the discussion were gambits for agreeing, disagreeing, and interrupting.   This included practice in turn taking and interrupting, both verbally and non-verbally.  As well, a discussion was modeled so that the students could get an idea of what they needed to do.

Leading up to the discussion the pairs then took the following steps:

  • Work in pairs to find an article from a reliable English news source on a current event. (For my EFL class, I helped some of my students select from among articles that I found on BreakingNewsEnglish.com)
  • Find 2 key words from the article
  • As a pair write a summary of the article and include the key words in the summary. (The summary is what students use to begin their discussion about the article they read)
  • Come up with 3 questions to ask during the discussion. The questions should be related to the topic of the article and go from personal thoughts or opinion to a more global connection to the article.

The Activity

Once the students were ready, the pairs were split up into separate groups with 3 – 5 students per group. The pairs that worked together lead their discussion in tandem. Before the discussion I handed out a rubric that could be used as a guideline in covering all the necessary target language and soft skills.

The discussion went something like this:

  • Discussion leaders give a brief summary of the article based on the written summary they provided, but not verbatim.
  • Then, they lead into a discussion asking the three questions they have chosen. (Hopefully the conversation allows the leaders to ask further questions during the discussion)
  • As a conclusion, leaders should summarize what was said by the group (i.e. who agreed with each other, what did they say, who disagreed with what someone else said).
  • The summary and discussion could take anywhere from 5 – 15 minutes depending on the level your students are at.

As an evaluation I used the rubric that was provided to the students. I also had them do a self-evaluation using the rubric. You could also have students give each other feedback on their success in leading a discussion.

Most of the students in my class in Ecuador really enjoyed this project. As well, it helped the class to bond as students felt freer to express their ideas and opinions in the classroom.

Let me know what you think of this activity. Have you used a similar activity in your class?


* Many thanks to Christa Schuller, my practicum instructor, who shared this and so many other excellent ideas with me and has given me permission to share it in this blog.

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