A faculty client of mine recently asked me for some general all-purpose discussion prompts for her class. She was having difficulty coming up with prompts for in-class discussion that were focused on the readings she had assigned, yet were also broad enough to generate many different answers and spur discussion. And ideally, they would also address her goals for the class: to help her students understand course content and develop their analytical skills.
This can be a challenge for many instructors. Finding the right question to encourage students to dig deep into a reading and identify points of controversy or critique takes practice and experience. Before responding to my client, I asked my CITL colleagues for help. Since most of them have had extensive teaching experience, I knew they would have some good suggestions.
Here is the list they generated of general all-purpose discussion prompts. Most of the questions can be adapted for many different disciplines and course levels.
- What’s the main argument of this article?
- What surprised you about this reading?
- What do you think was the most important point / piece of evidence / thing in this reading? (choose one)
- What is one thing that you felt needed more explanation?
- How would this author approach X (concept we’ve been discussing in class)?
- How would this author respond to Y (another author we read for the class)?
- Who is the intended and unintended audience for this reading? That is, who does the author intentionally or unintentionally include or exclude and how?
- What does the author want us to do with this information?
- What kind of assumptions is the author making about what their audience knows or believes?
It is a good idea to try out a few of these questions yourself first, to see if they work with the associated reading, but try not to build up a strong sense of the “correct” answer, since you typically want to prompt analytical thinking, not just get a specific answer. And if you are working with groups in class, you can ask different groups to respond to different questions.
For additional help planning and managing in-class discussions, see the CITL teaching resource on discussions or contact CITL to meet with a consultant.