Discussion Preparation

Elements of a Discussion

These elements are formalized terms for what many of us already do when leading a discussion. Each contributes to an effective discussion and leaving even one of these elements can be detrimental to a successful outcome. They follow a logical order, but if that does not serve your objective, modify the order so that it works for you. You may also omit or shift the emphasis to one or more elements based on your objective, your familiarity with the group and knowledge of the subject.

  • Bridge: This element of a discussion is also known as “the hook.” It is intended to be the aspect of the discussion that grabs the learners’ attention, and provides them with some reason to be interested in the lesson; some motivation to become involved. The bridge is established at or near the beginning of the discussion.
  • Learning Objective: This element answers the question “what is the point of the discussion?” It focuses the discussion, identifying what the learners should be able to do at the end.
  • Pre-assessment: This element answers the question “what do the learners already know about this topic?” This is meant to identify learners’ pre-existing knowledge as well as to choose appropriate elements for your discussion. This should be done prior to planning as well as during the discussion.
  • Discussion Start: This is the element that begins the discussion you have planned.
  • Discussion: This element comprises the major portion of the discussion. It is the learning experience, designed to help learners meet the learning objective.
  • Discussion End: This is the summary of learning that happened during the discussion. It provides closure.

These elements are the mechanics of the discussion. Equally important is that the environment set is conducive to participation and the exchange of ideas. Once it is set, it must be nurtured in each discussion.


This element is often known as “the hook.” It is important that you engage your students’ so that they are fully present throughout the discussion. Let them know how attention to and participation in this discussion will benefit them.

Some options for hooking your audience:

  • Use the agenda or the objectives as a hook
  • Use a quote or an anecdote
  • New twist on the familiar; take a common saying and change it
  • Start with a personal note (yours or theirs)
  • Use an icebreaker
  • Show an object or an image
  • Stories

The bridge is meant to be very short and should not take up much time in your discussion. It can be as formal as a planned activity or it can be as informal as a welcome.

Learning Objective

1. An objective is a statement indicating what students will be able to do by the end of the discussion. It is:

  • related to intended outcomes, rather than the process for achieving these outcomes (for example, the statement: “students will discuss the impact of cultural values on their concept of the role of physicians” focuses on the process and does not let students know what they will be able to do by the end of the discussion. The statement: “students will be able to describe the impact of cultural values on their concept of the role of physicians” begins to focus on the outcome).
  • specific and measurable, rather than broad and intangible.
  • Concerned with students, not teachers.

2. To develop an objective (use pencil as this will likely involve many rewrites):

  • Start general and work down to the specific.
  • Give specific information regarding what you want the learner to be able to do (for example: label, define, integrate), to what level (for example: identify all, distinguish between two) and with what resources (for example: using lecture notes, based on the readings, drawing on personal experience).
  • Determine how your learner will be evaluated and align your objective.

3. Write a separate statement for each important outcome or intent; write as many as you need to communicate your intents.

4. Give your written objectives to your students. It will be clear what is required of them, and they will take responsibility for keeping the discussion on track.

Generally, an effective objective will be:

  • Learner centered
  • Specific
  • Observable or action oriented
  • Revealed to learners

Benefits of a learning objective:

  • Learners know what is expected of them. This means that they take responsibility for the discussion and for keeping it on track. Also, objectives can alleviate students’ discomfort with the often ‘scattered’ nature of discussion.
  • It can help you narrow your selection of content, resources and materials
  • It will allow you and your students to determine if learning has been accomplished.
  • It demonstrates great regard for the student.


Preparing for a discussion must also include gathering information about your learners and their needs both prior to and during the discussions. The more you know and understand your learners, the better you will be able to prepare the discussion (for example: opening with a question that they can easily relate to) and the better prepared you will be for issues and conflicts that arise.

  • Analysis – Who are they? How many will be there (this is an important information if you are going to break them into groups)?
  • Understanding – What is their knowledge of the subject? How will I best prepare them for the discussion? Are they comfortable participating in a discussion?
  • Demographics – What are their ages and genders? What are their cultural, academic, and educational backgrounds?
  • Interest – Why are they there? Is this discussion of short-term or long-term interest to them?
  • Environment – How will I set up the room? Will I bring props to the discussion?
  • Needs – What are their needs? What are my needs as the discussion leader?
  • Customized – How can I prepare a discussion that is specific to this set of learners – not generic?
  • Expectations – What do they expect from each other, themselves and me, the discussion leader? What are they here to learn?