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Classroom Management: Student-Led Discussion Groups

Janelle Cox

Using classroom management to teach students how to lead and participate in a discussion group is a great way to get your students involved and engaged in learning. Student-led discussions not only help harness your students’ overwhelming need to talk, but they help engage all learners in the classroom, even the shyest ones. When using classroom management to prepare for student-led discussion groups, it’s essential that students know what is expected of them. Teaching students how to communicate and be effective group members are a just a few of the ways you can prepare students to get the collaborative conversation going. Here are a few more classroom management tips on organizing student-led discussion groups.

Classroom Management: Set Behavior Management Guidelines

The first step in organizing student-led discussion groups is to set some behavior management guidelines for the groups. Start by brainstorming some “Talking rules” with the students that they must follow while in the group. Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Use a clear voice when it’s your turn to speak to your group.
  2. Listen carefully as each person takes turns talking.
  3. Wait patiently until the other person is done talking before you try and speak.
  4. Ask the student who is speaking any questions if you do not understand what they are saying.
  5. Always use kind words when speaking.
  6. Always be prepared to back up your opinion.

Tips to Help Manage Student-Led Groups

Here are a few tips for organizing your student-led groups as well as a few suggestions on how you can effectively and efficiently manage them.

  • Assign a group leader and rotate this role for each new discussion card. This will help manage the group and keep them in line.
  • Walk around the classroom and give prompts to help keep the conversation moving along if you see that it’s stalled.
  • You can switch discussion groups for each new discussion card or just rotate leaders, ether way is fine.
  • Plan at least one student-led discussion group per week, but make sure that students are very familiar with the book or text first. If they aren’t then it’ll be hard to keep the conversation flowing.

Using Discussion Cards to Get the Conversation Going

Discussion cards are a great icebreaker. Student-led discussions don’t just start on their own, discussion cards will help get the conversation rolling. Here are a few suggestions on how to use them.

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  1. Place students into small groups (five students per group) and give each group one discussion card. Have one student read the card to the group, then give their opinion on the card. Students then take turns answering the card and giving their opinions. To help students keep from interrupting others or speaking out of turn, use chips or a talking stick. Only the person who turns in a chip or who is holding the stick is allowed to talk. If someone wants to ask a question or give their opinion they must turn in a chip or ask for the stick.
  2. Give students about 5-7 minutes to take turns discussing the card. An example of a discussion card for a reading workshop could be, “What is the author’s purpose in writing this story? Give specific evidence to support your answer.” Students would then have to show the group members specific examples from the book to answer this question.
  3. Walk around the classroom and listen in on the group discussions. Keep tabs of what you see and hear, because you’ll need to give your opinion of how well each student worked in their groups once you complete their assessment rubric. Once the time is up, give each group another discussion card to work on. You can adjust your time and decide how many cards you want your groups to work on according to how much time you have for this activity. You can usually get in about five cards in a 30-minute time slot.
  4. Leave a few minutes for students to self-evaluate as well as time for you to give them some feedback.

Remember to Have Students Self-Evaluate

At the end of the student-led conversations, give each student a rubric. Their job is to go through the rubric and rate how well they did for each component. Here are a few rubric topics: I spoke clearly when it was my turn to comment, I only talked when I turned in a chip or had the talking stick, I asked questions if I didn’t understand, my opinions were relevant to the discussion card. After students fill out their rubrics, take a few minutes to call up each student and discuss your thoughts on how they rated themselves. If you don’t have time to do it right away, then you can do it at any point throughout the day.

Once students become familiar with discussion cards and the kind of questions that they ask, you will be able to ask students to take the lead and partake in a group discussion on their own. Sometime students do so well with this that they don’t even need the discussion cards.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educatorsor contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.