I want some help taking part in discussions in class.

It is important to take part in discussions in seminars and tutorials. Some units of study include ‘class participation’ as a part of your assessment. However, even if there is no assessment for class participation, taking part in discussions will often help your learning, and hence increase your assessment marks.

For non-native speakers of English, here are a couple of tips which may help:

  • Remember that ‘perfect’ grammar is not necessary in a discussion. Spoken grammar is not the same as written grammar, and in fact most native English speakers make many ‘mistakes’ when speaking in informal conversation.
  • The important thing is for your meaning to be clear to others in the discussion. If your grammar or pronunciation are not perfect, you can help people understand what you mean by reinforcing or clarifying your meaning, e.g. by repeating your main idea using different words, by giving examples, using hand gestures, diagrams, etc.
  • Another tip for non-native speakers of English is to prepare in advance the vocabulary which will be used for the discussion. Look up definitions of new technical terms, and practice pronouncing and using them.

If you are feeling shy or unsure about what ideas to contribute to the discussion, here are a few suggestions which may help.

  • Preparing your ideas beforehand can give you confidence, as well as improve your learning. For example, after you have completed the reading(s) which cover the topic for discussion, write down at least 2 questions you would like to ask about the reading or the topic, and 2 opinions you have about the reading or the topic. Take these questions and opinions with you to the discussion.
  • Another tip is to talk about your ideas with just one other person, before the discussion with the whole group. For example, you could arrange with another student to exchange e-mails about the reading the night before the discussion, or simply meet up with another student 10 minutes before the seminar begins. This can be a good way to build confidence before the discussion, as well as to develop your ideas more.
  • Finally, it is worth remembering that you can often make a helpful contribution to a discussion without saying very much. For example, you can encourage others who are speaking and respond to them, for example, by turning your body to face them, making eye contact, nodding, smiling, agreeing with “yes”, “mmm-hmm”, “right” etc. – or disagreeing politely by shaking your head, saying “I’m not sure”, “Is that right?”, etc. (Remember, if you disagree, you may need to be ready to say why and to give your own view.)

For more detailed advice about managing nervousness in discussions, you can speak to the counselling service (see links on the right).

For more on this topic, see the links on the right...