Introduction The key to refining your discussion skills is working in groups. Doing so effectively is communicating effectively among group members. Group collaboration is critical for your understanding because different individuals will bring different viewpoints and thoughts to the group. Ultimately, a group can come up with unique ideas and perspectives that facilitate learning more effectively than you could by yourself. In this lesson we’ll discuss some important aspects of engaging in collaborative discussions.   Collaborative Discussion Groups Collaborating in groups means working with other students to help further each other’s understanding. Most of the time, this kind of group collaboration will be about a novel, short story, or other text being read in class. Collaboration is important because it brings together multiple viewpoints and ideas that individuals in the group might not already have. For instance, even if you feel like you know a book you read for class to the fullest extent, someone else might have read it with a different perspective and understood it in an entirely different way. After sharing each of your thoughts on that book, you are able to improve each other’s understanding by exposing each other to differing viewpoints on the same material.   1. Coming to discussions prepared Participating in collaborative discussions is half of what group collaboration is about. The other half is the work you do outside of the discussion to make sure that you show up prepared. If you don’t come to your group’s discussion prepared, you’ll have no way to contribute to your group—and therefore will be unable to participate. Below are a few tips for showing up prepared: Make sure you’ve read the material. This may sound obvious, but it is key to participating. If you aren’t familiar with what your classmates are discussing, then there’s no way for you to engage with them. Have your assignments done before class. If your teacher assigned you work on the material for the discussion group, make sure you get it done before hand. These assignments are meant to help you engage with the material and to get you thinking appropriately. By completing them before you enter discussions, you set yourself up to engage effectively. Take some time to formulate your own thoughts about the material. If you’re thinking about what you’d like to say about a novel while your group is discussing it, then you might run out of time, miss your turn, or not be able to communicate your ideas in a thorough, thoughtful manner. If you can spend some time prior to the discussion reflecting on what you read and how you felt about it, then you’ll have your thoughts collected before the discussion. Take notes during the discussion if someone else (like your teacher) isn’t already. Your preparation shouldn’t stop as soon as your group gets to collaborating and talking. If you’re reading a book in class chances are that you’ll have regular discussion groups. Having notes on hand from previous discussions that you can look back at is always helpful. This way, you can even refresh the group on what was discussed previously if need be.   2. Asking important questions A great way to formulate your own thoughts on the material for a discussion group is to ask yourself questions about it. Coming up with answers to complex questions (questions that go beyond straightforward answers) about the reading will help you engage with the material on a deeper level. Posing similar questions to your discussion group during collaboration is also an effective way to start the conversation. In addition, it helps you compare your interpretations of the material to someone else’s. The key is coming up with the right questions to ask yourself and others. Questions that can be answered with a yes or no, or even ones that have answers directly in the text, should be avoided. Instead, ask questions that don’t have clear answers and depend on the reader's interpretations and viewpoints. These are the types of questions that will lead to the most interesting discussions. Below are just a few ideas for questions you could ask yourself and peers: What did you think of the author’s writing style? What stood out to you about the reading? What do you think the author’s purpose is? What is the theme and the message of the writing? How does (group member’s) point relate to (other group members) point? A critical thing to remember when asking questions and engaging in group discussions is the power of asking "why?":  by simply asking someone why they felt a certain way, or why they think something, you are opening up an avenue of conversation with them and the group as a whole. Just make sure when you follow up someone’s response by asking why that you are doing it in a respectful manner, and it doesn’t sound like you are asking why because you don’t respect their viewpoint.   3. Effective group communication A major aspect of collaboration with others is learning to communicate effectively. Below are a few tips: Leave room for other group members to talk. Remember that the importance of a group discussion comes from all members of the group engaging with their unique points of view. Even if you are more willing to share than your peers are, do your best to give everyone time to open up. Meanwhile, if you are typically less willing to talk try to remember that group collaboration environments are welcoming, open places. There are no wrong answers, and your peers will learn something from your unique perspective. Practice engaged and critical listening. While others are talking, make sure you are listening. Don’t just listen so that you hear what they say, but do your best to understand what they are saying. Think about how what they are saying relates to what you said or plan to say when it is your turn. Of course, make sure you are not on your phone or talking to others while your peers are sharing. It’s best to look at them to show them that you are listening, but if you need to look in your book/notes/class material in order to help you understand their points that is acceptable. Acknowledge when your peers express new ideas and engage with these ideas. As mentioned earlier, your peers have different experiences, viewpoints, and reading styles than you. As a result, they are likely to bring up points that you haven’t thought about. When these come up, try and contrast them with your own thinking and share what you find if it is relevant to the group. Don’t be hesitant to tell someone in the group that you found what they shared to be interesting. This fosters a welcoming and open environment and might inspire other people to share more. Use the discussion material as a frame of reference when hearing other people’s viewpoints. While there probably aren’t any right or wrong answers during group discussions, it is always helpful to think about people’s responses and points with the assigned material in mind. For instance, if you find that you disagree with someone’s point and you know of a spot in the book that might disagree with them as well, then respectfully point this out. Of course, the same goes for when you do agree with someone’s discussion point. Using the discussion material is a great way to anchor your group’s collaboration.   Conversation Starters Sometimes students hesitate to collaborate in a group because they aren’t sure how to start. Below is a compiled list of potential ways to start your comments when you’re collaborating with a group.   Purpose   Conversation Starter To agree with someone and further their response   I agree with ___, in fact... To go off of the previous point... In addition to what ___ said, I think... To disagree and provide your own thoughts   I understand what ____ is saying, but I actually think that… In contrast to what ___ mentioned, I think… I don’t think I agree with ___. My interpretation/thought was that... To clear up something you don’t understand   I’m not sure that I understand ____’s point. Could you clarify for me? I’m a little confused by that point, could you explain it again? To start a new conversation   I was hoping we could talk about (insert section/idea/concept), what were people’s thoughts on that? I thought that (insert section/idea/concept) was… How did you all feel about it? Show Edit Destroy

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