Beyond the Basics: Strategies for Facilitating Classroom Discussion

Thursday, 10 July 2008: 9:10 AM
Patricia Frohock Hanes, PhD, MSN, MAEd, RN, CNE , School of Nursing, Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, CA

Learning Objective 1: describe three new strategies for facilitating discussion.

Learning Objective 2: discuss use of one facilitative strategy in a class.

Background: Discussions provide students with an opportunity to bring their own experiences and interpretations into the classroom; however, facilitating these discussions in an engaging and productive way can be challenging. Using adult learning theory and based on the work of Brookfield and Preskill (1999), specific facilitative strategies were adapted for nursing and applied across graduate and undergraduate programs in nursing at Azusa Pacific University. Using a variety of facilitative strategies moves faculty from the position of the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side” and allows students to have control over, and become engaged in, their own learning. Feedback from students in graduate and undergraduate programs has been enthusiastically positive. Faculty, as facilitators rather than disseminators, reflect theoretically-based, learner-centered teaching approaches to diverse adult students.

Purpose: The purpose of this presentation is to discuss use of different, engaging discussion strategies in the classroom.

Conceptual Framework: Adult learning theory based on the work of multiple theorists.

Methods: In this session, general principles of facilitation will be discussed, then the following techniques will be defined, described, and explained: cocktail party, snowballing, and jigsaw. In the cocktail party technique, food, presented in a prescribed manner, is used to facilitate informal discussions around specified topical prompts. Snowballing enables students to explore assigned topics in groups of ever-increasing size, beginning with two or three students and expanding to a whole class discussion. In the jigsaw technique, students form groups to discuss assigned topics. These groups re-form by exchanging members to discuss specific elements about their topics then meet again in their original groups to engage in deeper and broader discussion.


Brookfield, S. & Preskill, S. (1999). Discussion as a way of teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.