Discussion models

Listed below are instructions for leading six different discussion models, as well as advantages and disadvantages of each.


Everyone sits in a circle where they can see each other. A question is posed, and each person states their opinions/ideas as we work our way around the table.

Advantages: All students have an equal opportunity to participate.

Disadvantages: Careful thought is required picking a discussion question, as there must be many potential answers.

Buzz groups

The class breaks into groups of 3-6 people. Each small group discusses the topic on their own for a few minutes, generating ideas. Once time is up, each small group is asked to share one idea with the whole class and the ideas are recorded on the board.

Advantages: There is a lot of interaction among students.

Disadvantages: This model is time-consuming.


The purpose of a Quescussion is to generate a list of questions that ‘people might ask’ in response to a stimulus. The discussion leader starts the Quescussion by asking a question related to the discussion topic. Participants may only respond in the form of more questions. This discussion model is very informal and participants shout out questions as they think of them. There are only 3 rules in a Quescussion:

  • Only questions can be asked.
  • If someone makes a statement everyone yells "statement!"
  • Two other people must speak before a participant can participate again.

The class can then focus on the questions one at a time, or simply leave the ideas bouncing around in students’ heads while moving on to a more formal lecture style.

Advantages: Quescussions are non-threatening and frequently get students laughing, especially when someone inadvertently makes a statment.

Disadvantages: Quescussions can easily wander off topic.


Brainstorming is a creative technique to generate a list of ideas on a particular topic or problem. During brainstorming sessions participants are encouraged to share their ideas as soon as they have them: there is no right or wrong answer in brainstorming. The key to brainstorming is not to interrupt the process. Frequently the TA or a member of the class will record ideas on the blackboard, whiteboard, or overhead projector.

Advantages: Brainstorming sessions encourage students to think freely and without inhibitions.

Disadvantages: It is easy to lose focus during a brainstorming session.


During a snowball discussion everyone thinks about an idea/question/issue for one minute, generating three reactions, comments, answers, etc. Then two people come together and try to come up with three things they agree on. Then two groups of two join and try to come up with three things they agree on, then two groups of four join and try to come up with three things…etc.

Advantages: There is a lot of student interaction and ideas must be prioritizied.

Disadvantages: This discussion model is time-consuming and for some issues it may be difficult to reach consensus on the "three most important issues".


This model is an excellent tool for highlighting the "shades of gray" in polarized issues. Ask the entire group to line up along one wall of the class and then present an issue (i.e. Facebook is an appropriate forum for student-TA interaction). Tell the class that the right end of the line represents the position 'yes, I agree completely’ and the left end of the line represents the position ‘no, I completely disagree’. Students should mingle and discuss their opinion on the issue, eventually finding and taking their appropriate position within the continuum. Once students are in place, take a moment to discuss the thought processes experienced by students at various locations in the line-up.

Advantages: Line-ups focus on interaction and allow participants the opportunity to have one-on-one discussions with a number of people and to get an idea of the wide range of opinions that may exist about a certain issue.

Disadvantages: These can be time-consuming and require a lot of advance preparation, as it can be difficult to think of topics that generate polarized answers. Also, the nature of this discussion model means that each student must make a public stand about their opinion. For this reason, avoid using this model when discussing highly personal topics such as abortion, animal testing, capital punishment, gay marriage, church reform, etc.