Tuesday, July 10, 2012

8 Tips for Leading Discussions: Part 2

This is the second part in a two-part series on leading discussions for older elementary children. If you missed part one from last week, you can find it here >

What if it doesn’t work?

In spite of the best plans, the most carefully planned questions, and the ideal seating arrangement, some discussions may still not work. The leader may feel the discussion is getting away from him, questions may be raised for which the leader has no answers, or there is no general agreement on the topic. Rather than allowing confusion, it is best to reorganize and evaluate the situation.

Refer back to the opening comments and to the goals and objectives of the discussion. (This is one of the reasons it is crucial the leader use good questions and comments to start the discussion, and that the children clearly understand the goals and objectives — what conclusions you want to reach — for the discussion. The opening statements set the tone for what is to come and indicate there is something worthwhile to discuss.) Summarizing will automatically discount any discussion that wandered from the subject. As you summarize, try to get the group to agree on the major points you have discussed and their conclusions.

If difficult questions arise, don’t panic. Assure your group you will check and get the answer for them by your next meeting. Or, have a member do the research, either during the discussion (if research tools are available) or by the next meeting. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know an answer; students will recognize a bluff or vague answer, but they will respect you more if you are honest in admitting you don’t know.

The same approach can be used if a question comes up that has no bearing on the discussion. Simply say, “That’s a good question, Eric. Let’s talk about it after the meeting. Right now, let’s continue talking about …” then get right back to the subject of your discussion.

If you are well prepared before your meeting begins, if you are interested in the subject, and if you treat the students in the discussion group with respect and consideration, you should be able to handle most any situation that might arise out of the discussion.

What about tools?

Some discussions may benefit from tools to enhance them and keep them going. A chalkboard, whiteboard, overhead projector, computer projector, or flip chart will allow you (or one of the children) to write down key points as you work toward a general summary and conclusion. (Don’t stay at the board too much; try to stay seated with the group as much as possible.)

For some discussions, guide sheets are helpful. Guide sheets are often in your VBS curriculum and can include basic questions, Scripture references, and space to write key points or answers to the questions.

The most important tool for any discussion is the Bible. In addition to the Bible version you normally use, you may wish to have additional versions of the Bible available, as well as a Bible dictionary, concordance, and other reference materials.

Types of discussions

If your group is quite large (more than 15 to 20 children), a discussion with the entire group may sometimes be unsatisfactory. Try breaking into several small discussion groups, each with a leader, and applying the same basic principles of successful discussion. Or, move into “buzz” groups of 3 to 10 people. One person is chosen as leader and another is picked to write down the group’s ideas and report on them when all the buzz groups reassemble for a large-group sharing time.

Brainstorming is another small-group discussion variation. Each small group is given a problem and asked to come up with as many different solutions as possible. Most any idea is valid to enter into the discussion; brainstorming allows the kids to think freely about the problem and its solution. Everyone is encouraged to use each other's ideas as a springboard for their own. Record all the ideas; don’t reject any. Set a definite time limit, then get back together in the larger group and share the ideas from all the groups.

Another discussion method is the forum, an informal or formal discussion made up of a panel of speakers who have prepared reports, then interact among themselves on what they have researched. The panel discussion is a less formal variation of the forum; it allows for interaction from the floor, or from the group at large. Good research coupled with preparation by several members of your group, provides the stimulation for good discussion.

Don’t forget to evaluate

It’s not enough just to have a discussion, make some conclusions, and go home. Always evaluate each discussion, decide whether your discussion accomplished your goals and objectives, and learn ways you can do better next time.

This checklist will help you evaluate your discussions:
  •  How did the discussion contribute to understanding the topic?
  • Did the children in the group learn anything from the discussion?
  • Did the discussion help the children apply what they learned to their own lives?
  • Was each child involved in the discussion, and if not, how can this be corrected in the future?
  • What follow up should be done on what was included in this discussion?
Discussion—in various forms—is used often with older children in VBS curriculum. While it is only one method for effective learning and application, discussion can bring new excitement and involvement to your meetings. And, as the result of good discussions, you will observe new incentive, increased maturity, and new leadership skills among your students.

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