HMH Support is here to help you get back to school right. Get started

Instructional Practices

9 Classroom Discussion Strategies for Engaging All Students

3 Min Read
WF1995913 Shaped 2024 Classcraft blog migration images31

One of the great challenges of classroom management is figuring out how to quiet the exuberantly talkative students and redirect that energy (you don’t want to stifle it entirely) to the task at hand. Let’s look at some simple strategies you can use to encourage productive classroom discussions.

Class Discussion Strategies to Channel Enthusiasm for Informal Discussions

It’s likely that the same students who help you drive class discussions, also derail them when they veer off topic. So what can you do to manage and redirect their enthusiasm?

Here are some classroom discussion strategies that can help you to engage all students while keeping them on track. 

1. Identify the objective

Before starting any classroom discussion, be sure to write the objective where everyone can see it. Read it out loud before the discussion, and refer to it as needed throughout to keep the conversation on topic.

2. Establish clear guidelines

The guidelines might specify how many times a student may or should contribute and a maximum time frame for sharing.

3. Weave in students’ interests

For example, you could begin a discussion on World War II by referencing Captain America, or discussing the Avengers’ dilemma concerning the Sokovia Accords with the follow-up question of whether it’s better to always follow the law or to do what you think is right, even if there are consequences.

4. Prepare students for the discussion

With this class discussion strategy, give them a variety of ways to prepare for a topic: reading, listening, watching a video. Students are much more likely to participate if they’re familiar with the topic of your discussion.

5. Choose engaging topics

We want our students to have the ability to articulate their thoughts, analyze the points made by their instructors or peers, and discuss any new information they acquire. We also want them to know how to disagree in a healthy and respectful manner, and perhaps come to a consensus. Engaging student discussions is the answer to creating a culture of speakers, listeners, and learners.

6. Affirm, summarize, and redirect as needed

When the discussion starts to veer off topic, or a student begins to ever so enthusiastically wax poetic (or not so poetic), you may want to let it run for a short while — but not too long — to see if any relevant or valuable segway presents itself. If it does, affirm the idea, mention the segway, and then redirect the conversation back to the main objective.

7. Offer alternative times for off-topic discussions

Oftentimes, kids just want to be heard. When a student veers off topic, affirm their ideas and suggest an alternative time to discuss those topics further. This could be a lunch period, study hall, recess time, or whatever other time you’re willing to devote to the student.

8. Draw in quieter students

Doing this breaks the momentum of the noise. Quieter students often have insights to share, but may need some quiet reflection time before discussing their ideas with the rest of the class.

9. Try Think-pair-share

This is a popular class discussion teaching strategy that’s broken up into three parts:

  1. The students think about (and often answer on paper) the discussion questions.
  2. The students are divided into pairs or small groups.
  3. The students share their ideas with their partner or group.

A Worthy Challenge

We teach and interact with beautifully diverse groups of students, each with their own thoughts and unique ways of expressing themselves. While it may be challenging to hear them through the noise, the effort is definitely worth it in the end. Draw out your students’ thoughts, and watch them grow into their best selves.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


Find more lesson plans and classroom resources on Shaped.