5 Strategies that Make Class Discussions More Student-Driven

Inclusive student-driven learning is the classroom environment students need.

John Dewey by Darren McAndrew, 2019

Inclusive student-driven learning is the classroom environment students need to become life-long learners. John Dewey said it best when he stated, Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” We see that as meaning, create a classroom environment where students can take responsibility for their learning and they will become active learners for life.

Dewey believed that students should be the conductors of their own learning and that learning should be a social and experiential process. 


Well, it’s because there are such positive outcomes that can come from that type of learning. For example:

  • Students will be engaged and interested in what they are learning.
  • Students who are more inclined to learn have a good understanding of what they’re learning.
  • They have the opportunity to work at their own pace and investigate the things they are interested in.
  • It opens up the opportunity to collaborate at all levels (student, teacher, classrooms, etc.).

With all of that, let’s jump into the strategies that will support student-driven learning during discussions.

5 strategies to create a student-driven learning experience during discussions.

1. Setting goals

Starting strong! Set class-wide goals for the discussion with your students, 3 to 5 goals is a good place to start. Allow your students to choose the goals that they want to aim for. This initial step will immediately let your students know that this is their discussion and they are responsible for how they engage in this activity as a class community.

Examples of goals might include:

  • Everyone should participate at least once during the discussion.
  • We will discuss for at least __ minutes.
  • Build on at least two other classmates’ ideas.

These goals will set the stage for a positive student-driven discussion.

2. Sentence stems

This is a great place to start as students are becoming familiar with how to participate in a student-driven discussion. Sentence stems help them organize their thoughts and provide support for sharing their ideas or asking their peers great questions. It also provides them freedom to explore the topic on their own terms and ask questions they want to ask.

Here are 5 different examples:

Sharing their ideas

Building on ideas

Disagreeing with ideas

Taking a different perspective

Asking clarifying questions

Connecting ideas

This is especially useful for quiet students or language learners who need the support of preparation to feel comfortable participating in a verbal discussion.

For more on this see The Student Guide to Live RoundTables.

3. Student Notes

Having students prepare notes helps provide a point of reference when participating in a discussion. It’s an organizational tool that allows them to compile ideas in preparation for speaking. As well, it gives them the confidence to take an active role and lead the discussion.

  • For a quick discussion give students 5 – 10 minutes before the discussion starts to write down their ideas.
  • For a longer discussion that may require more research, give students a few days to prepare for the discussion.

Tip: encourage students to submit their notes to you – this is another way that you can see student thinking. This is helpful for understanding quieter students’ thinking even if they do not speak up.

If you’re using the Parlay Live RoundTable to have your discussion, the student notes are built-in, and the teacher can always see them in real-time. Share the prompt with your students and give them time (in-class or outside of class time) to write down their thoughts and ideas. During the discussion they can reference their notes at any time.

4. Student Moderator

Have a student moderate the discussion. A student moderator has the role of keeping track of who is speaking, who speaks next, and any other details that you’d like them to keep track of, such as, answering questions, connecting student ideas together, offering reminders, etc.

There are many benefits to having a student moderator! When they lead the discussion it can reduce pressure and contributes to the environment of student ownership. Peer-to-peer interaction and collaborative thinking = a wealth of knowledge.

Students who are the moderators also get experience being in a leadership role. For each discussion choose a new person to be the moderator!

A student moderator makes this a student-driven discussion from top to bottom. If you’re using Parlay you can make use of this feature! Use this article to help students learn more about this role.

5. Final Reflection

This is a critical step in the discussion process. It’s a way for everyone to get a good understanding of how the discussion unfolded.

There are multiple ways this can be done, but one option is “Exit Tickets”. At the end of the discussion ask every student to write down 1 to 3 things that they took away from the discussion. Collect the tickets and then share with students the main themes that came out of the discussion. This will help highlight the most important points of the discussion and reaffirm learning outcomes, and it’s all student-generated! Students can feel proud knowing they generated their own knowledge.

If you set goals at the beginning of the discussion, now is the time to revisit them.

  • Did we achieve all of our goals?
  • How can we work together to make sure that we all succeed next time?

Students who create goals together will work as a team to make sure that everyone achieves.

If you’re using Parlay to have your Live RoundTable discussion once it is complete and you end the RoundTable, a summary will be automatically generated containing class participation details as well as an individual student summary chart. Review this data with the class to reflect on how the class can improve for next time!!

This is how John Damaso uses the Live RoundTable with his students.

Round Up

That was 5 strategies for more inclusive student-driven discussions. You and your students are now on your way to creating an inclusive learning environment where students are actively engaged in their learning.

If you try any of these strategies let us know how it goes!

If you have any questions make sure to reach out to us on our website, click the smiley face in the bottom right-hand corner. We look forward to hearing from you! Or find us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.