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Chris Jones

Great piece! My most successful semester as a discussion leader was the semester that my son was born. I was still a TA back then, leading discussion sections for a large lecture course. With a new baby, I didn't have time to prepare in-depth discussion plans--there were times, in fact, I barely managed to do the readings myself. I'd walk into class with literally no plan except to ask them what questions they had. My students responded by...asking questions. Lots of them. Enough that we were able to build complex, engaging discussions out of them. The experience taught me not to be afraid to put the onus on my students to generate discussion--in fact, those discussions are often the best because they are directly responsive to students' interests.

Kate B.

That's great, Chris. Sounds as if your students were willing to put in the time to read and think before class AND in class.

Kate B.

What kinds of experiences have others had in your classrooms? Got any tricks for getting conversations started?

John Hilton III

I like your idea of having students write things down and then share. Something I've done for a little bit of variety is create what I call "The Random Name Generator" (RNG) It's a just a PowerPoint with one student's name written on each slide (so in a class of 20 there would be 20 slides). The PPT is set to cycle through the students names, with .1 seconds per student name so it goes through quickly (and repeats itself). I'll show them the "RNG" and then ask a question and give them some time to write. They are pretty motivated, knowing that the RNG will call on them. I also joke around with them a bit, telling them that "The RNG can sense fear, so if you're worried, it will probably call on you!" I only use it 1-2 times per semester but it's a fun way to do some different and help people get involved.

Kate B.

I love that idea! (Of course, I'd have to figure out how to make a slide show that works without me hitting the "down" button.) But I think a little humor can go a long way to disarming the atmosphere of the room.

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