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"Who wants to share?"No facilitator enjoys the quiet sound of staring right after they have asked the group to share comments. Creating an environment that is conducive to discussion can be a challenge, but there are strategies for minimizing awkward moments and increasing the quality of comments.
Discussion prompts are only one part of an engaging discussion.
Your learning activities can also minimize discussion as much as a poor question prompt.
For the sake of this post, I'll assume that you have activities built into your learning experience that gradually build and integrate topics (see an earlier post on the DEAL model for inspiration).
Where do discussion prompts fail?
Some of the ways I have failed as a facilitator to promote discussion include:
Give two prompts at once.
- Example: "What did you share and what did you like about it?"
- Why it doesn't work: Generally, people will only answer one of the two-parts. Usually, they will focus on the second part of the question because it is the last part they heard. If the first part of the question is more important to building the activity rather than the second the facilitator has inadvertently focused attention away from their learning goals for the discussion.
- How to remedy it: Ask one question at a time. Then, either ask the individual your second question as a follow up or let several people answer the first question and then use the second question as a follow up for the group to respond to.
- Example: "I've talked about XYZ topic. For me, I think that... [etc. etc.] And I had an experience once with XYZ... What about you?"
- Why it doesn't work: Additional facilitator commentary can take away from the learner's focus and create confusion about what is expected of them. If you share your opinion first, participants could also view that if they have a contrary opinion they have misunderstood or are wrong. The group may go silent if they are unwilling to challenge your expertise as the facilitator. Whatever opinion you share will model for the group what you want in response.
- How to remedy it: Ask the discussion questions first and allow the learners to speak. Then, provide a summary of the group's comments and add your opinion.
Ask closed and leading questions
- Example: "Does this work for you?"
- Why it doesn't work: "Closed questions" refer to questions that can be answered with a single word, like yes or no. Closed questions are helpful when used intentionally, but in general, they do not encourage discussion. "Leading questions" direct a participant to answer in a very specific way. For example, if our example question "Does this work for you?" is asked with a sarcastic tone, the facilitator may lead the participant to feel that he should say no. Leading questions, again, minimize discussion.
- How to remedy it: Rephrase closed questions for open questions using "what" or "how". If you want a very specific answer from your audience make a direct statement rather than asking a leading question.