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Facilitator Resources

How can facilitators be effective in discussion?

Group Facilitation Tips

Effective facilitation of a discussion involves the recognition and employment of different perspectives and different skills to create an inclusive environment.  In order to do so, it is important to consider the features of effective discussions, and conditions that promote small group interaction and engagement.  Discussion is a powerful mechanism for active learning; a well-facilitated discussion allows the participant to explore new ideas while recognizing and valuing the contributions of others.

                                         - Facilitating Effective Group Discussions: Tips, Brown University

Discussion Goals:

  • Make sure everyone feels welcomed and comfortable sharing ideas

  • Watch out for people who are dominating the conversation or not participating

Develop new ideas:

  • The goal is to share your ideas about love and society while also taking away other’s ideas and gaining a new perspective on this topic

  • Stay open-minded

How the Discussion Will Work:

  • Give everyone a chance to introduce themselves and share something about themselves if they feel comfortable doing so

  • The group facilitators will have a variety of opening activities for ice breakers at their disposal but if another member of the group wants to provide an alternative way to get your group more familiarized with each other, feel free to share that

Lay Out The Ground Rules:

  • Treat everyone and their ideas with respect even if you disagree with their opinions

  • Allow everyone to speak

  • Make sure the conversation is thought-provoking and NOT argumentative

  • Make sure participants are backing up claims with evidence

  • Keep conversation appropriate so everyone feels comfortable

Reiterate Questions:

  • Restate the Essential Question of the day as well as potential Sub-Essentials

  • If anyone needs clarification on the actual questions or what they mean before entering the discussion, be prepared to answer that

Your Role in Discussion:

  • Focus on group progress

    • Make sure you have time to discuss all questions

    • Stay on task

  • Make sure everyone is respectful

    • Encourage everyone to participate

    • Welcome all ideas

    • Make sure comments are positive and not demeaning towards any individual

  • Take notes:

    • Write down key ideas, questions and themes discussed

    • If discussion dies, uses notes as a reference

    • Refer back to essential and sub-essential questions

Sticky Situations:

  • If someone becomes very controversial or political

    • Play the devil’s advocate and bring it to the larger group whether or not you agree with what’s being said. Do not avoid their viewpoint, simply offer a different way of looking at it. 

    • If it does become too political and begins to be uncomfortable, you can always mention limiting politics. Mention the necessity for the respect of all viewpoints while in the group. It is an open discussion. Then proceed to bring their point in another direction. Blatantly shutting them down is never good for the group.

  • If the group is still awkward or quiet at the beginning

    • Ask for initial thoughts. Could always start with one of the probing questions or a quote. Silence is never bad, time to think is essential, however, if it does go on for too long try turning the conversation in a new and fresh direction.

  • Arguments

    • Begin with a disclaimer that it is an open conversation, in no way are we debating each other's ideas. 

    • If people do fight and it becomes heated, know that you are the facilitator and you can interrupt them and ask to move on. There are no right or wrong answers, make sure they understand and resolve the tension.

  • Boredom 

    • Sometimes a two-hour conversation can run a little dry. Try to again, spin the conversation in a new direction. Offer a quote or new question to spark conversation.

  • An overpowering speaker

    • Before the discussion, remind the group to have only one person speak at a time and to be considerate of other people wanting to share their ideas as well.

    • As if anyone else wants to add anything. Redirect and give an opportunity for others to speak.

  • Awkwardness

    • Don’t be afraid to ask a probing question. Use the cheat sheets provided. If any hesitation with transitions, these can be extremely helpful! 

    • Stay on topic, but also keep it light-hearted to bring people back into the conversation.

    • Relate to everyday life for everyone.

    • Crack a joke! Laughter cures every awkward silence (Make sure they are appropriate and PG).

Remember these conversations are meant to stretch people’s thinking and have everyone walk away feeling like they truly benefited from the conversation. They are not only meant to be philosophical, but the more fun you make it, the better it will be for everyone. Be open and honest!

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