Discussion as Pedagogical Strategy

Consider the last discussion in which you participated. What was the discussion topic? Was there a clear goal or result of the discussion? Did it cause you to consider an alternative perspective you had not considered prior? Did you learn something new?

Discussion is an effective pedagogical strategy to facilitate a learning experience and assess understanding. Most importantly, discussion fosters an active learning environment that allows learners to participate in their learning process by reflecting on prior knowledge, connecting experiences to new knowledge, exploring new knowledge areas, and discovering the biases that exist in their thinking. The ultimate goal of a discussion is to foster development of problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Discussion allows a learner to process information rather than simply receive it, transforming the role of the teacher from a lecturer to that of a facilitator.

Discussion is a versatile strategy to use as it can be deployed within dyads (pairs), small groups, or large groups and structured between both peers and facilitators. If you are considering incorporating discussion into your teaching tools, take some time to plan for your discussion. Identify the topic to discuss and the goals to be achieved as a result. Consider the discussion setting, small or large group, and how much preparation time is needed by the learner. Finally, create questions that will get your learners talking. As you start developing your discussion questions, consider Bloom’s taxonomy to help construct and align with your discussion goals:

  1. Knowledge: Ask learners to perform simple recall.
  2. Comprehension: Ask learners to put information in another form.
  3. Application: Ask learners to select facts, principles, or generalizations and apply these to a particular problem.
  4. Analysis: Ask learners to identify and comprehend the elements or parts of a process, communication, or series of events.
  5. Synthesis: Ask learners to engage in original thinking.
  6. Evaluation: Ask learners to determine how closely aligned a concept or idea is with standards or values.

If you are looking for non-traditional techniques, consider using the following:

  1. Assign discussion roles: devil’s advocate, proponent, analytical, etc.
  2. Use representative or resonating quotes on the subject.
  3. Engage in a critical debate; have learners take sides regarding a topic to defend their opinions.
  4. Find a current event in the news on the topic and determine if it is fact or opinion.
  5. Use the KWL technique by having the learners answer the questions of what they know, what they want to know, and what they learned on a topic.
  6. Use the jigsaw technique to facilitate small groups. See the prior active learning post by Cindy Gosse.
  7. Use questions that are aligned to Bloom's taxonomy above; have learners roll dice and answer random questions.


Brookfield S. Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005.

Riegle R. Classifying classroom questions. Journal of Teacher Education. 1976;27(2):156-161.

Carrie Bowler

Carrie Bowler is the Program Manager for graduate medical education within the department of laboratory medicine and pathology. Her responsibilities in this role include: accreditation oversight for the anatomical and clinical pathology residency program and 22 subspecialty fellowships, faculty development for program faculty and allied health staff, program evaluation and assessment, and curriculum builds.