How can teachers effectively use discussion in the classroom?

January 28, 2022

There was a problem: Research had been done on using discussions as an effective teaching tactic, but the findings and strategies were published in disparate academic journals.

“Not only was it challenging for me—an academic with journal access—to track down all of these studies, but I realized it must be nigh on impossible for practicing teachers to get their hands on this useful information,” said Michigan State University Assistant Professor Jane C. Lo.

She wanted to provide a solution for all educators.

The outcome is “Making Classroom Discussions Work: Methods for Quality Dialogue in the Social Studies,” published in January 2022 by Teachers College Press.

The book, edited by Lo, covers two decades of research in the field and provides evidence-based techniques and real-world examples on why using discussion is “widely considered a best practice of civic learning.”

Moreover, the book’s chapters, featuring expertise from scholars around the nation, describe ways in which educators can enact quality discussions in the classroom.

“Quality discussion provides the space for a strong learning community, as well as the opportunity for an exchange of ideas from different perspectives,” said Lo. “It is through quality discussions that we can learn from one another’s experiences and ideas so as to develop a better understanding of the world.”

The book is also useful for educators outside of social studies.

For example, one chapter was written by literacy scholars that highlights empowering youth voices. Another chapter covers using discussion as a component of successful professional development opportunities. The book also is useful for administrators and policymakers to help understand what works in the classroom so they may better support teachers. The book also nudges the field forward: Research is included that pushes the field to be more thoughtful, leverage underrepresented voices and ensure that discussions are equitable.

“Quality discussion takes effort,” acknowledges Lo. But importantly: “Its benefits outweigh its challenges. This book will show you how it can be done.”

Making Classroom Discussions Work” is available now through Teachers College Press.

More from Lo

Teaching in the Days After: Lo discusses why, and how, teachers should talk about major events, such as presidential elections and inaugurations, in the classroom.

Lo was also part of a Michigan State University panel discussion on “Moving Beyond ‘Back to Normal’ in Times of Unprecedented Uncertainty” in March 2021. Listen to a recording.

Lo is the co-leader of the Anti-Racism and Social Justice Teaching and Leadership module being offered for free to Michigan educators. The module is one of several in a collaboration between MSU, the University of Michigan and Michigan Virtual focused on addressing inclusive teaching and learning. Learn more.