How do you choose or develop good discussion questions?

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lead to a good discussion

     There are many websites and sections in books which offer discussion questions and, by all means, use them as you wish.  I prefer to write my own for the following reasons:

·       If the questions are more than two simple sentences, your group will struggle to process them.  They are too busy trying to think what the questions mean.  I use short, direct questions, perhaps set up by a one sentence description of a situation in the book.

      Example: “Woodard sees a lot of comparison between the U.S. path and Canada’s.  What  does he see as the different way the two countries have handled their internal conflict?”

·       The language should be clear and simple and direct.  The last bullet shows an example of when I have learned from my groups to streamline my message.

·       You will have a good number of introverts in your group, which will mean that occasional processing time would be a huge gift to them.  Some of them will request the questions in advance, which I have already advised that you make available routinely.  But on occasion, watch what happens when you say this.  “Take a minute to jot down your thoughts on this question.”

     Ex. “in the past decade we have experienced other ominous occurrences or trends.  What are some of these?”

·       I sometimes include a question which requires them to break into pairs or small groups for a discussion of an issue, and halfway through that allotted time, I ask that they make sure both people have shared their perspective.  It sets a group tone of listening and valuing everyone’s input.  Placing such questions in the middle of the session is a good technique too, especially if the group is fidgeting.   They need to stretch from sitting long enough.  But I have one group that likes that activity as a warm-up, rather than interrupting the flow of the general discussion in the meeting.  Read your group.

·       Another effective technique is to give subgroups different questions related to a topic.  Provide a time period for them to discuss their particular question.  As they are winding down, I ask them to choose a spokesperson to briefly share their findings with the whole group.

·       I nearly always include a question which encourages people to draw on their own experience.

     Example: Think back to a community you know.  Is there an example of a business which thrived and was a vital force to the community- and how did that business change (or not) over the years?

·       I always wrap up with something like this one “What have you learned from reading and discussing this book that will make you a better informed voter?”  I’m thinking I will try an even simpler one in the future.  “So, now what?  How will you apply what you have learned from the book and the discussion?”  The answers are often fascinating and will show you what a difference you are making by offering this opportunity to interested readers.