Assigning Specific Roles for Classroom Discussions (part 1 of 2)

Class discussions provide amazing opportunities for students and professors to learn. Creating conditions for productive class discussions is sometimes difficult. This Fall 2015 semester I am going to try using the roles that follow to facilitate more productive conversations.

The idea is that each student will do each role an equal number of times over the semester. In classes that are bigger than 10, I might give some of the roles to two students each week; we might break big classes into groups of 10 with each group having its own discussion; we might also try it to where not everyone has a specific role beyond “general participant” on a given week. 

I “stole”* discussion leader, devil’s advocate, passage master, and connections specialists. The others were either developed by me and/or suggested by friends and colleagues. This is a work in progress. Please share suggestions!  

  • Discussion Leader– the discussion leader helps set the day’s agenda, is an expert on the day’s readings, and comes with several high-level questions to ask classmates.
  • Advocate– the advocate will be a “cheerleader” for the text and the author’s point of view and will help articulate the larger importance of ideas brought up.
  • Devil’s Advocate– the devil’s advocate is skeptical and/or takes diverging positions from assigned primary and secondary sources for purposes of argument and understanding.
  • Passage Master– the passage master will select and dissect important passages.
  • Connections Specialist– the connections specialists will help connect the readings to other issues explored in the course and will consider connections to parallel issues in different times and places.
  • Ethicist – the ethicist will help determine if the historical material was handled appropriately and will consider ethical issues confronted by historical actors.
  • Fact Checker– the fact checker will do additional research to verify the “accuracy” of important and controversial statements.
  • Methodologist the methodologist will 1) discuss how this course challenges, expands, or compliments other groupings (demographics, geography, chronology, etc. – for example the difference between “Texas History,” “Mexican American History I” and “United States History to 1877”) used by academics; 2) as possible based on assigned reading, discuss how other historians or historical actors have addressed similar topics; and 3) analyze the construction of arguments in the readings.
  • Visualist- the visualist will find maps, images, and other multimedia relevant to the readings.
  • Artist- the artist will write a Haiku, which can be multiple stanzas, summarizing and/or responding to the readings. Alternatively, students can write poems in other styles or make some kind of other visual representation in the form of a painting or installation, for example.

*Parrot, H. M., & Cherry, E. (2011). Using structured reading groups to facilitate deep learning. Teaching Sociology, 39, 354-370.

Part 2 will come in a few months after I have a chance to try these out and get more feedback.

In the meantime, please make suggestions, and if you try these, please let me know how it goes! Thanks! jjf_ua_lg



Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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3 replies

  1. Excellent. I find these strategies and principles appropriate for a critical classroom, and I plan to “steal” ideas for writing and rhetoric classroom. Gracias.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Have read this several times and will probably use it in one of my argument analysis activities. I have always used discussion, but definitely plan to set (modified) roles. Interesting isn’t it that young people today often do not realize what “participate in discussion means or involves.” Thanks. This is helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

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