One of your roles as a teaching assistant may include facilitation of discussions and asking questions that provoke further discussion. Open-ended questions force students to think more, and make connections in what they’ve learned.

When students ask you a question, rather than simply providing them with the answer, guide them to figuring out the solution themselves by asking a series of leading questions. By helping students to think through problems and find their own solutions, you will enable them to be more confident and competent in solving similar problems in the future.

Leading discussions and asking good open-ended questions can be challenging, especially when you are new to teaching. However, it will greatly improve your students’ learning, as well as make your teaching more interactive and engaging. For ways to improve with this, see the TAG Facilitation Skills sheet included on the next few page for ideas.

Other information available on questions and facilitation can be found in the following places:

The article “Improving Discussions” by William E. Cashin and Philip C. McKnight can be found at www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/Idea_Paper_15.pdf. It talks about strengths and weaknesses of using discussion, and provides recommendations for improving both the cognitive and affective aspects of discussions, as well as how to increase student participation.

The pamphlet “Facilitating Discussions: A Brief Guide” by Katherine K. Gottschalk of Cornell University, is available online at www.tinyurl.com/qjhe9e. It provides tips on encouraging participation, defines a good discussion, gives guidelines on how to prepare for and lead interesting discussions that will engage your students.

The article “Students Don’t Answer Me! Why?” is a part of the newsletter located at http://web.mit.edu/chemistry/www/academic/tanewsletter2.pdf.