Last Updated: Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Group discussion professional learning resource

What is this?

​The group discussion professional learning resource is designed to support improvement in literacy attainment by helping schools to build their capacity in teaching group discussion skills. When offered a range of group discussion experiences learners are given the opportunity to increase their vocabulary and widen their range of language. Well-structured group discussion experiences can also lead to improvements in overall attainment in reading and writing.

The resource builds on the results of the SSLN 2014 for group discussion. In discussion, learners should progress from turn taking and articulating ideas, thoughts and feelings to responding and making use of higher order skills such as questioning, challenging, summarising and building on the contributions of others. However, further analysis of survey findings found that learners were less confident using these higher order skills.

Who is this for?

​This resource is designed to be used by groups of primary and/or secondary practitioners to evaluate current practice and plan next steps in the learning and teaching of group discussion skills.

​How to use this learning and assessment resource to improve practice?

Getting started

Use the interactive 'Group Discussion skills diagram' to consider how group discussion experiences help learners to develop higher order thinking skills as they progress through the levels from early to fourth.

A range of exemplars provide an overview of the range of experiences that might be planned for learners to develop their group discussion skills both in and out of the classroom. The additional links suggest approaches and ready-to-use resources that can be used to improve group discussion in the classroom.

Download(s)

PDF file: Interactive Group discussion skills diagram (435 KB)

Explore the resource

​Use the full range of group discussion exemplars and accompanying commentaries to:

  • explore how a breadth of group discussion experience allow learners to develop the full range of skills
  • consider how challenge can be built into planned group discussion experiences as learners progress through the levels
  • support planning of group discussion experiences across a four contexts of the curriculum

The resource explores three broad types of discussion and shows how each one helps learners to develop the full range of skills in different ways. The three types of discussion:

Exploring ideas and developing knowledge

First level

In this video, pupils discuss if they would like to live in a rainforest - a topic they have just begun to explore.

The emerging skills of deploying prior knowledge and using subject specific language effectively and confidently contribute to this group explaining why they would/would not like to live in a tropical rainforest.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip in Glow (log-in required).

See the commentary for this video.

Second level

Possible second level discussion tasks

  • Expressive Arts: Discuss the work of the artist that you have started studying in class. Explore together the different features that are typical of their work.
  • Life and ethos of the school: School Bank – As a group discuss the different features of the bank and how each one works.

Third level

Possible third level discussion tasks

  • Sciences: Photosynthesis - Discuss what you already know and what you would like to find out about the process of photosynthesis.
  • Life and ethos of the school: Eco-committee – Discuss your understanding of the idea of sustainability and what steps the school can take to be more sustainable.
  • Discuss what you know about the moral issues surrounding genetic engineering and ‘designer babies’.

Analysing and Evaluating

This type of discussion allows learners to develop and use higher order thinking skills in order to deepen their learning about texts or topics.

Employing higher order questioning and challenging each other effectively will help learners to deconstruct, compare and contrast ideas.

Summarising allows learners to draw ideas together and make links between them.

The same skills allow learners to build detailed evaluations, for example when evaluating the effectiveness of a writers’ language, judging the effectiveness or reliability of a text, or when assessing their own work or the work of others.

First level

In this video, a group of learners discuss the issue of homework at a pupil council meeting and begin to apply discussion skills in a different context for learning.

The emergent skills of building on contributions and responding to other viewpoints contribute to these pupils being able to analyse the topic of homework provision in some depth.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip in Glow (log-in required).

See the commentary for this video.

In the following video, a group of learners consider the life essentials they need to survive. They are using a 'diamond nine' to select and agree on nine possibilities out of 13.

The emerging skills of questioning and building on contributions allow these pupils to evaluate what they consider to be life’s essentials, making decisions about their relative importance.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip in Glow (log-in required).

See the commentary for this video.

Second level

Here, learners participate in a group discussion as part of an environmental awareness project.

The boys employ a wide range of group discussion skills in order to deepen their learning about elephant poaching and enhance their reading of a text.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip in Glow (log-in required).

See the commentary for this video.

Third level

This discussion task requires the learners to come to a consensus about the relative importance of the causes of WW1.

The skills of challenging and building on contributions allow the girls to conduct a successful analysis of the different factors that contributed to the outbreak of war, allowing them to rank them in order of importance.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip in Glow (log-in required).

See the commentary for this video.

In the following video, pupils assess how useful an extract from the novel Warhorse is as an historical source.

Learners respond respectfully to each other as they probe and challenge each others' opinions. This allows them to pull together a detailed joint evaluation of the text’s usefulness.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip in Glow (log-in required).

See the commentary for this video.

Debating different viewpoints and reaching a consensus

First level

As part of a superheroes project, this group has been discussing real life superheroes. They have been asked to rank the various occupations.

The emerging skills of responding and building on contributions allow these pupils to reach a consensus in ranking the various occupations provided on the task cards.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip in Glow (log-in required).

See the commentary for this video.

Second level

In the following video about the qualities of a good teacher, different learners challenge the ideas of others throughout the discussion.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip in Glow (log-in required).

See the commentary for this video.

The group are exploring the possibility of opening up Muga Pitch to the community and discussing reasons for and against this.

They are listening to each other and responding appropriately as well as challenging each others' view points and opinions. The learners have very different viewpoints and use a range of skills in order to persuade the group.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip in Glow (log-in required).

See the commentary for this video.

Third level

A group applies discussion skills in social studies to develop and consolidate their subject knowledge by debating the question: Is an MP a trustee or delegate?

Learners use different skills in order to move the group towards a joint consensus of opinion.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip in Glow (log-in required).

See the commentary for this video.

Further information

The following links provide further information on approaches which can be used to improve practice and outcomes.

Thinking Together Project
Find out about Cambridge University's dialogue-based approach to the development of children's thinking and learning.

​Discussion based approaches to reading

Literature Circles, Gender and Reading for Enjoyment
Find out about Literature Circles and how they offer the potential to promote reading for enjoyment and group discussion.

How to use the language of discussion

The following document provides a comprehensive set of phrases that learners can use to help them to think and contribute in different ways during a group discussion.

PDF file: Language of discussion stems (71 KB)

Video transcripts

Word file: Rainforest

​Word file: Pupil council meeting

Word file: Life Essentials

Word file: Elephant poaching

Word file: Causes of WW1

Word file: Warhorse

Word file: Real life superheroes

Word file: what makes a good teacher?

Word file: Pupil council meeting - Muga Pitch

Word file: Trustee or delegate?