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To keep discussion focused, you might initially pose several key questions. The larger the group, the more likely that some participants will dominate and others remain silent. To ensure that everyone has the opportunity to speak, you may want to divide participants into smaller units. When any discussion concludes, summarize the main points orally and in writing.

1. Small Groups: Size will depend on time and the sensitivity or complexity of the subject. In most cases each group selects a reporter to summarize its discussion.

2. Buzz Groups: Participants discuss in pairs for a limited period. This method is especially effective for articulating ideas in preparation for a general discussion or to give expression to personal response to a film, presentation, or experience. After talking in pairs, couples might be asked to combine in groups of four and compare their opinions.

3. Open Questioning: Facilitators need to develop the skills of keeping the goal of discussion clearly in mind and of asking questions that encourage participation and analysis. Here are some typical forms of open questions:

      • Hypothetical: “What would you do if…?”

• Speculating: “How might we solve this problem?”

• Defining: “Can you say more about how that idea would work?”

• Probing: “Why do you think that?”

• Clarifying/Summarizing: “Am I right to say that you think…?”

4. Rules for Discussion: One way to help create an environment of trust and mutual respect is to have participants develop “Rules for Discussion”:

a) Ask participants to think of some principles for discussion, which they think everyone should follow.

b) Write all of these suggestions where everyone can see them, combining and simplifying where necessary. If not already mentioned, you might want to suggest some of the following principles:

      • Listen to the person who is speaking;

• Only one person speaks at a time;

• Raise your hand to be recognized if you want to say something;

• Don’t interrupt when someone is speaking;

• When you disagree with someone, make sure that you make a difference between criticizing someone’s idea and criticizing the person;

• Don’t laugh when someone is speaking (unless she or he makes a joke!);

• Encourage everyone to participate.

c) Copy the list of rules neatly and hang it where participants can refer, add, or make changes to it as necessary.

5. Talk Around / Go Around: The facilitator sets a topic or asks a question and everyone takes turns responding, usually within a set time. Limit the time consistently. Make clear that anyone who doesn’t wish to speak may pass.

6. Talking Circle / Word Wheels: Participants are divided in two groups, one sitting in a circle facing outward and the other facing inward so that each person faces someone else. These pairs then exchange views on an announced topic. After a set period, the facilitator asks everyone on the inside to move one seat to the right and discuss with the new person sitting opposite. This process continues until each person has changed views with several others.

7. Talking Stick: In this method, derived from Native American tradition, anyone who speaks must be holding a designated object, which could literally be a stick or anything else easily visible and portable. This method builds awareness of sharing the “air time.”

8. Talking Tickets: To provide everyone an equal opportunity to speak, give each participant three “talking tickets,” each representing a certain amount of “air time.” Once someone has used all her or his tickets, that person has no further opportunities to speak.

9. Think-Pair-Share: Participants have time to write or simply think on their own about a critical question; they then link with one other person to discuss and then bring their reflections to the entire group.

10. Write Around: This method is a discussion in written form. Pose a key question and ask everyone to write a response at the top of a page. Each paper is then passed to the person on the right, who reads the first statement and responds to it by writing something below. Repeat the process until three or four people have had a chance to respond. Then pass the papers back to the left so that everyone can see what has been written in this “silent discussion.” Because the facilitator does not see what participants write, this method can enable them to express opinions they might wish to keep from the facilitator.

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