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Four Ways to Make Discussion Techniques Work

Discussion is more than one person talking with or to another person. Discussion is a powerful teaching tool that leaders can use to communicate the gospel by discovery as well as by guiding conversation.

Discussion is more than one person talking with or to another person. Discussion is a powerful teaching tool that leaders can use to communicate the gospel by discovery as well as by guiding conversation.

  1. Getting learners involved in discussion is a challenge. Many teachers lead classes of older adults whose cultural background calls for silent respect or who resist anything that calls attention to themselves. The challenge for these groups often is met simply by finding ways to make the content and discussion connect with something in learners' lives that generates response.
  2. Focus on common experiences - Most adults have common life experiences at different stages of life, one of the primary reasons for age grading in Sunday School even for adults. When teachers include a time of discussion in their teaching plans, teachers should plan the discussion around how the topic to be discussed relates to learners’ lives and experiences. These could be anything from a recent movie or television program that has generated interest to transition points in life, such as the empty nest, grandparents raising their grandchildren, or what is happening locally.
  3. Focus on controversial issues - Controversial issues provide a good basis for how the Word applies to life. Teachers can identify recent court rulings, community laws and regulations, or political decisions as the foundation for building discussion. Include more than the background information about the issue, however. Provide discussion groups with structured questions or situations from which to build a relevant discussion that leads to specific conclusions. The point of a discussion is not just to talk; discussion should result in practical solutions or conclusions.
  4. Focus on helping learners get started - Questions that help learners stay focused motivate learners to participate. People reluctant to participate are more likely to share thoughts and ideas if they can respond to specific questions or circumstances. Keep discussion periods short, with clear instruction of what learners are to produce from the discussion. Whether a list of ideas or a position statement from the group, help learners know what is expected.
  5. Focus on the group - Monitor what happens within groups. Remember that discussion about anything controversial can generate emotions. Help learners remember that good discussion does not necessarily mean unanimous agreement. Monitor whether certain individuals dominate discussion while others remain uninvolved. You might need to step in with a question like, “Jim, we haven’t heard from you in a few minutes. What are your thoughts on the matter?”

Many adults resist discussion when teachers fail to provide good structure and intentionality. Help adults learn from interaction and cooperative learning experiences in discussion by structuring the discussion. Spiritual transformation is not the acquisition of more knowledge. Real transformation occurs when we discover how to apply knowledge in a wide range of situations, with the result glorifying God and helping others grow in the process.
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