Facilitating Difficult Conversations during Class

back of student, raising their hand, instructor calling on themEstablishing ground rules can help keep classroom dialogue respectful; consider involving students in the process of creating the rules. There are various approaches guiding classroom discussions. The following are strategies that may help when discussing sensitive topics.

(Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash)

hands shakingEstablish Ground Rules

Get students on the same page:

  • Support your arguments with evidence, such as known facts, published research, etc.
  • Use “I” statements - it is ok to articulate your feelings or perspectives, but do not try to speak for others in the class.
  • Do not generalize about groups – we can make arguments with known actions or statements by groups, but we should not make overgeneralizations.
  • Listen actively – pay attention to what is being said in order to respond appropriately.
  • Keep an open mind – our goal is to learn from each other.
  • Name-calling, sarcasm, and inflammatory accusations are not permitted – we need to keep the dialogue respectful.

Instructor’s reminders:

  • Take a break if the discussion becomes too heated or intense.
  • Allow students to speak without interruption.

gears turningStrategies for Facilitating Conversations

  • Be intentional about what topics you bring into the conversation. Consider your learning objectives when you choose topics to discuss or apply to course concepts.
  • Start discussions in small groups to give students a safer space for initiating their discussions.
  • Consider assigning conversational moves in advance. For example, “Make a comment that brings two other comments together.”
  • For smaller classes, use the round robin format in which each student speaks in succession and builds on the previous comments made.
  • Include time for quiet reflection – possibly through a short writing activity – to help students prepare their responses.
  • Choose readings and materials that present different perspectives.
  • If you notice conflict between students, use assigned seats for the whole class to provide some separation.

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