How to love classroom discussions

Ryan Barone
October 07, 2019

Hate is a strong word in any instance. 

But, there are certain things that make you feel so uncomfortable - in this case, the classroom discussion - that “hate” is the best and perhaps only way to describe such feelings. 

What is wrong with classroom discussions?

The problem with classroom discussions, or at least in my experience, is that they are structured poorly. In fact, they don’t resemble discussions at all. 

Instead, they usually went something like the following scenarios:

1. Teacher asks a question and nobody responds. Teacher “randomly” picks the most terrified student they can identify to start this “discussion.” 

2. Teacher asks a question and “that student” responds first. You know, the one who raises their hand for everything, and then dominates the rest of the “discussion” with a barrage of points and other questions.

3. Teacher tells the class that there will be a discussion tomorrow, and Abby, Brandon, and Jack will be leading the discussion. Tomorrow comes and the three appointed students give their prepared statements; nobody really responds to anything anyone else has said, and they all just give their own personal takes, delivered in isolation. 

4. Teacher tells the class that a large percentage of their grade is based on participation. Teacher proceeds to take any audible sound as participation, which adds very little to any type of discussion. 

My point is, nobody was ever really discussing anything. Either people who clearly didn’t want to talk in front of the class were forced to, or, that one person talked too much, or, people were talking, but not really discussing anything. 

Why do some students hate classroom discussions?

In addition to not really being provided with a conducive discussion environment,  there are a number of reasons students hate or are not fond of classroom discussions. 

It’s school after all
Some students just don’t like school in general. So, classroom discussions aren’t all that exciting because they are just another school activity. 

Introversion is real, and is more powerful than meets the eye
Some students are naturally more introverted than others, and thus, it takes a lot for them to speak out; “a lot” meaning needing to prepare and perfect exactly what they’re going to say before saying it. Participating also takes a lot out of these students as well, as the process can be physically and mentally exhausting. (It's important to note, though, that not all students who refrain from speaking in class are introverts, as explained here.)

Other students are rude and looking for the opportunity to pounce
Some students aren’t kind, and speaking out in a public setting can provide fodder for anyone waiting to pounce on a slip up, mispronunciation, speech impediment, etc. 

Students don’t want to draw attention to their “imperfections”
With that, some students do have speech impediments, or they simply aren’t comfortable speaking out in front of the class for whatever reason, and don’t want the attention.

General social anxiety is difficult to deal with
Some students develop general anxiety over the thought of having to speak in front of others in class. Perhaps they don’t want to say the wrong thing, feel awkward when speaking, etc. 

Participation requires more work
Some students know that participating in classroom discussion usually means they have to prepare beforehand which might mean extra work, which they don’t want to do or think they don’t have time for.

Articulation is more difficult for some students
Some students might be in a setting where the discussion is taking place in their second, or non-native language. This makes it difficult to articulate certain points, which then opens up the chance for ridicule as mentioned above. 

Teachers might not be the best facilitators
Some students can also be intimidated by the discussion setup or atmosphere, including teacher demeanor, etc. For instance, a teacher can get frustrated when students don’t participate or do, but answer incorrectly. Their body language or facial expressions may change, or they might even audibly voice their frustrations. All of the above can be intimidating, and doesn’t make for an inviting environment. 

Tips for students to deal with classroom discussions

Regardless of the reason why a student may dislike or even hate the classroom discussion, the following tips can help them through. Who knows, perhaps they might even enjoy classroom discussions in the future. 

Prepare beforehand
There were a couple points above centered around the preparation required to participate: one had to do with feeling the need to over prepare and rehearse, which is a side effect of being an introvert. The other was simply not wanting to prepare because preparation required more work.

For those who just don’t like putting in extra work, I don’t know what to say other than that’s just how it goes. Completing an education requires effort. 

But for those who feel anxiety when it comes to classroom discussion time, they can try asking their teacher on the side for more details on what is going to be discussed.  Meaning, rather than having to obsess and stress over discussing book chapter three in its entirety, knowing that the focus will be on the chapter’s conclusion will make the task a little more manageable when it comes to modeling potential responses. 

Speak early and get participation out of the way
Some students don’t have a problem with participating, but it’s the anticipation of having to do so that is paralyzing. For those students, it’s helpful if they can make it a point to speak up early to get their participation “out of the” way more or less. 

After doing so, it’s common for an immediate calmness to wash over, allowing them to relax, and clearing their mind to think about how else they can participate. 

Think about the true impact of your actions 
For those who hate participating in classroom discussions because they fear they’ll say or do something wrong or “stupid,” think about a time when a classmate made a mistake. How long did you think about that mistake after the fact? Not long, if ever, right? 

Remembering this point will hopefully help anyone who is fearful of a slip up; if they do make a mistake, big deal...the only person who will remember or care is most likely going to be them. 

Sit towards the front of the class (or the back)
Meaning, seating placement could help students deal with classroom discussions. It all comes down to preference. 

If they sit in the front, they might feel more relaxed and ready to participate because the rest of the class is behind them and out of sight. When in the back, they can see the entire class, and can be easily distracted by people not paying attention, or staring intently at them—both of which could lead to uncomfortable environments. 

Read More: Games to Help Students Pay Attention in Class

The reverse could also be true, with sitting in the back helping them feel more in control, versus in the front where they might feel 30 pairs of eyes staring at them. 

Set participation goals
One thing that could make classroom discussions difficult for some is that they feel like they’ve “failed” previous discussions by not contributing. 

For instance, if a student has sat silent for three classroom discussions, and participation is part of their grade, they might feel extreme pressure to contribute the next time class meets. 

To avoid that type of mounting pressure, students can set goals to contribute something at least once per meeting, or with one question and one response each discussion, etc. This way they aren’t dreading that last class of the quarter where they feel like they have to pretty much carry the discussion because they haven’t participated much at all up to that point. 

Leverage the “good days”
Let’s face it, there will be days when students are on their game more than others. If they can identify a “good day” going into a classroom discussion, and they’re feeling in tune with the material, they can really lean in and participate.

Doing so will help take the pressure off during the days they’re really hating classroom discussions and don’t want any part. 

Don’t hate, dominate
There’s a phrase I like to say—don’t hate, dominate. 

I’m right there with anyone who doesn’t like classroom discussions; I hated them for a time as well. 

After I learned how valuable they could be, though, things got a lot easier, and a lot more valuable. 

For me, I was lucky enough to have a great teacher who was the catalyst. 

Some students might not be so lucky, unfortunately, putting them in full responsibility to change the outcome. If nothing else, they should try to incorporate some of the tips above. If you don’t see a tip that addresses why the classroom discussion is a hated activity, let me know in the comments. I’m happy to take the time to respond. 

In the end, learning comes in many forms

If the tips above still don’t seem to help, here are some words in which students can take comfort.  

School is not forever. While it may seem never-ending now, they don’t have to endure a lifetime of classroom discussions. And, ironically, once they’re out, they’ll probably wish they were back in. 

Anyway, with that said, school is obviously incredibly valuable; classroom discussions and interaction are big pieces of that. Students should try with all their might to get by successfully, and either way, to remember there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

School is also not the only way to learn. While classroom discussions or chemistry, etc. might not be up their alley, charge hard towards the things they do enjoy. Is coding for them? Maybe. 

Whatever it is, try and identify the things they do in fact want to learn about, and give them opportunities to do so. They might actually find learning can be enjoyable. 

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