• Where in the class would it be most effective?

  • What prior knowledge should be reviewed before the demonstration?

  • What design would be most effective, given the materials at hand and the target audience?

  • Which steps in the demonstration procedure should be carried out ahead of time?

  • What questions will be appropriate to motivate and direct student observation and thought processes before, during, and after the demonstration?

  • What follow-up questions can be used to test and stretch students' understanding of the new concept?

If the classroom or lecture hall is large, consider whether students in the back will be able to see your demonstration. Look into videotaping the demonstration and projecting the image on a larger screen so that all of your students can see.


Small group discussion sections often are used in large-enrollment courses to complement the lectures. In courses with small enrollments, they can substitute for the lecture, or both lecture and discussion formats can be used in the same class period. The main distinction between lecture and discussion is the level of student participation that is expected, and a whole continuum exists. Discussions can be instructor-centered (students answer the instructor's questions) or student-centered (students address one another, and the instructor mainly guides the discussion toward important points). In any case, discussion sessions are more productive when students are expected to prepare in advance.

Why Discussion?

Focused discussion is an effective way for many students to develop their conceptual frameworks and to learn problem solving skills as they try out their own ideas on other students and the instructor. The give and take of technical discussion also sharpens critical and quantitative thinking skills. Classes in which students must participate in discussion force them to go beyond merely plugging numbers into formulas or memorizing terms. They must learn to explain in their own words what they are thinking and doing. Students are more motivated to prepare for a class in which they are expected to participate actively.

However, student-centered discussions are less predictable than instructor-centered presentations, they are more time consuming, and they can require more skill from the teacher. To lead an effective discussion, the teacher must be a good facilitator, by ensuring that key points are covered and monitoring the group dynamics. Guidance is needed to keep the discussion from becoming disorganized or irrelevant. Some students do not like or may not function effectively in a class where much of the time is devoted to student discussion. Some may take the point of view that they have paid to hear the expert (the teacher). For them, and for all students, it is useful to review the benefits of discussion-based formats in contrast with lectures whose purpose is to transmit information.

Sensitivity to personality, cultural, linguistic, and gender differences

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