Facilitating a discussion group

Classroom Community, TA Guides

Home » Teaching Assistants » TA Guides » Classroom Community » Facilitating a discussion group

The list below represents what a group of experienced UVic Teaching Assistants (TAs) have identified as guidelines for developing your discussion groups, seminars, tutorials, or other discussion-based structure as a TA. Not all suggestions below may be applicable in all departments on campus. Please use the list as a guide only as this list is not exhaustive but encompasses a diverse array of suggestions for facilitating discussion groups.

Attitude and preparation

  • When preparing, keep in mind the goal of the discussion (potentially discussed beforehand with the professor) and what you are hoping the students will learn (the intended learning outcomes)
  • Arrange the classroom furniture so that students can participate equally and small groups can easily move and form if needed
  • At the beginning of class, clearly communicate to students the expectations and goals of the discussion
  • As a facilitator, be aware that your attitude can affect the dynamics of the group, including the level and quality of participation. Be excited, enthusiastic, confident, respectful, and well-prepared.

Trust and classroom environment


    Create an atmosphere of trust between you and students and among students themselves

    • In a small discussion group (<10 students), plan a short ice breaker of introductions to build  trust.
    • In a larger discussion group (>10 students), consider breaking the students into smaller pods and having them complete introductions in their pod.
    • The key is to get students familiar with and comfortable with each other – it can be overwhelming to speak to a group of 15 students.

      As the facilitator...

      • Be open to students’ ideas.
      • Listen carefully and actively.
      • Be sensitive to students’ feelings.
      • Encourage and direct students’ input.
      • Facilitate the discussion so that everyone has an equal chance to be heard, the topic stays on track, and factual errors are corrected.
      • Be comfortable saying “I do not know,” and ask students if anyone can respond. If no contributions come forth, suggest several students search for the answer, if time permits; if not, then ask students to bring the answer with them to next class.
      • If you find out after class that you misspoke about any aspect, at the next class correct yourself and apologize.

      Involve students!

      • For example, if you have a group of 10 students, ask them to raise their hands to indicate if they would rather work as a group of 10 or two groups of five.
      • By giving students autonomy over how their discussions are run makes them more likely to participate and enjoy the sessions.

      Participation Scenarios


      Quiet students

      One way is to break the class up into small groups, which will provide a more comfortable space for students to speak in front of fewer people.


      More boisterous students

      Ask for those students who have already contributed to hold back until others have had a chance. Knowing students names can help in this situation.


      When the flow of discussion stops

      Wait a few minutes and allow the students to process the information. If all prepared material has been discussed before the class-time ends, ask students if there is anything they want to discuss, or give them time to generate questions.

      Evaluating student performance

      Often TAs are called upon to grade students’ performance and participation in a discussion session. 

      Through consultation with the course supervisor, detail the expectations of student participation. It is recommended that quality over quantity is measured. Therefore, to ensure that all students are equally assessed, provide multiple means for participation (such as: speaking in class, contributing to discussion forums, completing reflective writing assignments, contributing to small group discussion, etc.). This way, a student who may not always speak out to the whole group, is able to participate in other ways.

      Once you are clear on participation expectations, you can develop a rubric. If you are not sure how to develop a rubric, ask your TAC or contact the LTSI TA Coordinator.

      Present the rubric to the students at the first discussion. It is best to be upfront about exactly what your expectations are on the first day. Let students know they should approach you in advance if they anticipate issues with their participation.

      In summary

      Preparation is key to ensuring a discussion moves along at a good pace and all key topics are discussed. It is important to summarize the ideas that were raised throughout the discussion at the end of the class. This will help students organize the issues raised and to create a perspective.

      When in doubt, ask students for their input. Students respond well to being asked their opinion and enjoy participating in their learning journey!

        This guide was developed during the Teaching Assistant Consultants’ (TACs) seminars for the academic year 2009-2010 and updated in 2020-2021.

        About this post

        This post was last updated:

        August 8, 2022

        We acknowledge and respect the Lək̓ʷəŋən (Songhees and Esquimalt) Peoples on whose territory the university stands, and the Lək̓ʷəŋən and W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

        jQuery(function ($) { //open toggle on button click $('a.open-toggle').on('click', function(event){ $('#toggle3.et_pb_toggle_2 .et_pb_toggle_title').click(); }); }); Skip to content