Mulitple student placements (a number of students with one student supervisor) have many learning advantages. One advantage is the opportunity to engage students in group discussion to promote active learning. An effective group discussion will recognise and employ different perspectives to create an inclusive environment.

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Tips to facilitate group discussion

Strategies for potential problems in group discussion and strategies




Tips to facilitate group discussion

Create an inclusive environment

  • Ask everyone, including the facilitator, to introduce themselves. Consider an ice-breaker (e.g. Please introduce yourself and tell us why you have chosen to study....)
  • Set out the purpose and the expectations of the group
  • Use inclusive language (e.g. Today we are going to explore...)
  • Treat others with respect


  • Conveying a sense of superiority
  • Allowing talkative participants to take over the discussion
  • Discouraging alternative views

 Keep the discussion constructive and positive

  • Clarify the goals for the discussion
  • Establish ground rules (i.e. what you expect in terms of preparation, participation and follow up)
  • Value diversity of perspectives as this is part of the process and will enhance the discussion
  • Discuss constructive and destructive group behaviours
  • Acknowledge responses e.g. say ‘thank you’ or ‘well said’.
  • Build on what is said by using discussion points as a springboard for further discussion.

Encourage participants to contribute

Techniques to promote participation:

  • Ask questions that promote deep and continuous discussion (open, focus or probing questions).
  • Use a common experience or area of interest as the basis of discussion
  • Use non-verbal encouragement such as leaning forward, head nods and looking expectant. 
  • Use active listening.
  • Write up participants’ contribution on a whiteboard
  • Ask follow-up questions that encourage further discussion (follow-up questions, open or probing)
  • Paraphrase contributions if required
  • Revisit past contributions to make connections
  • Encourage other participants to give their reactions
  • Admit your own lack of knowledge or questions about a topic
  • Use nonverbal encouragement (e.g. lean forward, head nods etc)

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Strategies for potential problems in group discussion and strategies

The participant who dominates the discussion

  • Redirect the discussion to another person or another topic
  • Reframe their comments and ask for other participants’ views
  • Break group in to smaller task groups

The participant who does not talk

  • Provide opportunity for smaller group discussions or paired work
  • Ask opinion questions so there is no wrong answer
  • Ask participants to write down their ideas or come to the discussion with prepared material

Discussion that turns in to a debate or an argument

  • If the difference is fact based, refer to the appropriate text or article
  • Write both sides on a white board and encourage inspection and discussion
  • Focus on the ideas rather than the people

Unclear comments

  • Ask for examples and evidence to support the comment
  • Restate points and ask for clarification

Going off track

  • List the goals of the discussion at the start of the group
  • Write questions on the whiteboard
  • Summarise the comments and relate them back to the goals of the discussion

Participant who attacks the facilitator

  • It may be that the participant is seeking attention so provide recognition and then move the discussion on
  • Turn the question back to the questioner. For example, ‘My previous Clinical Educator said we shouldn’t ......’ “ok, I do that because...[provide rationale]. What are some other ways you could do ...”
  • Confront the questioner with your reaction to the question. For example,  "when you ...(do something), I feel... (angry, confused, etc.) and would like to... (change the way this is going)
  • Use active listening strategies to paraphrase the message they heard and check if that was what the questioner was asking
  • Locating the question by asking the participant to explain the context behind the question
  • Reframing – clarify the assumptions behind the question and ask the participant to consider alternative possibilities
  • Deferring – Ask the participant to talk to you at a different time.


The Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning (nd) Tips on Facilitating Effective Group Discussions. Retrieved from:

Health Education and Training Institute 2012, The superguide: a handbook for supervising allied health professionals, HETI, Sydney. This work is copyright.


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