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Skills - Speaking - Discussions 1 - Value of Discussing, Preparation, Roles

What's the value of discussing ideas?
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People process events verbally, so speech makes thinking "visible", something real.

• Discussions are a way of testing and exploring new ideas-we acquire knowledge and insight from sharing diverse points of view on a topic, some deeper knowledge on the issue and its complexities. We learn to create knowledge together.
• Discussions help us improve the way we relate to people and communicate. We can learn to be tolerant, as we get to understand why people say what they say. We learn to listen to people and to express disagreement in a respectful way.
• We also learn about ourselves and our viewpoints. It helps us sort out our own ideas and assumptions.
• We learn to make a synthesis and to integrate different views to visualize the whole picture.
Remember that discussing ideas is not establishing your personal value as a person. It is just discussing ideas! Realizing how well or badly reasoned is your viewpoint is always positive. It can help you be more confident on what you think about things and what your reasons are to do so.

Preparing for a Discussion

Discussion format
How to start, what to do when, how to end. First we will work in small groups. Then we will hold a plenary discussion, which will begin with the small groups reporting to the plenary. The plenary discussion will follow the reports.

It is always helpful to establish roles-a facilitator and a note-keeper at least-use this resource not only in plenary discussions but also in the pre-discussion small groups. There could also be an observer and a time-keeper, and a spokesperson or several spokespeople. Roles improve the quality and the organization of the discussion. See below.

Please, respect turns. The facilitator will be like a conductor and we must follow her/his indications. So jot down your replies (key words) so you won't forget them or interrupt the process.

Please, take part in the discussion. Everybody has to speak.

Before the plenary discussion
Working on the question or topic before the discussion enriches the discussion. As stated, first you will discuss the question or topic we have agreed to discuss in small groups. Remember that listening to other people can help you enrich your position in different ways. Eventually, the aim is you are clear about what your points are on the discussed topic.

After the discussion
It is necessary to have an evaluation. We can assess how the discussion went on and reflect upon what we learned on the topic. We could also think about how we feel about the discussion and what we learned about ourselves in that process!

At home, you could write a summary , so you will remember the discussion.


The Facilitator has the responsibility to help the group be as productive as possible. How? By guiding the process, eliminating obstacles, working to create a climate that leads to successful problem solving, and keeping the group focused on the task.

The facilitator tries to keep a low-profile and find ways to help everybody participate, integrating quiet people, too. Whenever participants seem to be lost, or whenever people seem to be getting into not listening to each other, the facilitator will offer an overview of the progress and/or a summary of the different positions, proposing ways to continue the discussion if necessary. Another resource is that he or she will repeat in his or her own words what people say in order to check that people understand what is going on in the discussion. The facilitator must make sure that the group keeps to the topic but will also be flexible in allowing space for additional information, if it's important. Humor is a good resource. If there is no time-keeper, the facilitator will also take care of overall time management.

The facilitator will support the note-taker in gathering all relevant information. This is something that can be done after the group work has finished.

The Note-Taker is the memory of the group. He/She observes the event from the background and writes down all relevant information. The note-taker may support the facilitator by asking questions, if needed. After the discussion the note-taker and the facilitator sit together and discuss the notes.

The Observer will help us know when misunderstandings are being produced, and will clarify or ask the facilitator to clarify the real state of affairs, what each person involved in a disagreement actually said. Her or his role is important because we tend to interpret immediately the words and actions of others. To what people say, we add what we think their intentions are. This can be a problem, because we are not listening to people then, or trying to understand what they mean. We are judging in advance. The potential for misunderstanding increases.

People are more important than ideas. Remember this if there is a heated debate.

Before the Discussion: Work in Small Groups

Discussion Topic/Question  
Group Members  

Points raised in the discussion (Statements + Reasons)
Potential opposing points

Did you put your ideas forward?
Did you get your ideas across?
Was the process fluent?
Were the contents clear?
Were there any problems?
What did you learn about your own ideas or about other people's ideas?

Plenary discussion & Tips

Jot down of key words before you forget what you wanted to say!
Jot down interesting ideas.
Or write a summary after the discussion, to remember its points or what we learned from the process.

Read more
Discussions 0 (Intro) * Discussions 2 (Formats) * Discussions 3 (Decision-making process)