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1. Ways To Improve Reading Comprehension and Retention.

2. Significant Contributions To Classrooms Discussions.

3. Ensuring Good Grades For Discussions.

This packet uses website text to explain how to read for comprehension and how to prepare for, and participate in, classroom discussion.

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The teacher, bless his little pea-pickin' heart, wants you to read a chapter from your German history textbook. You haven't a whit's interest in German history, or any other history.  But you still have to read it.  Then, try these little tricks:

1,  SKIM -- do a quick "read" of catch phrases, section titles, photos, drawings, etc.  Now, skim it again.  (Seriously.)  This will give you -- I pinky-swear -- a basic idea of the topics or issues.  If it's a nonfiction (say, government class) book, and the chapters are AGONIZINGLY LONG and OMG WHEN IS THIS GONNA STOP??? then skim your chapter by reading it by sections.  This is simple, because a textbook is likely to have sections, anyway.

2.  READ FIRST (TOPIC) SENTENCES --   Since the first sentence of each paragraph often states the main point of that paragraph (while the other sentences elaborate on that point), you can skim it by just reading the first sentence. In some cases, you can get enough information by only having to read the first sentence from each paragraph.

3.  OUTLINE -- read a whole paragraph, then write the main point of the paragraph. Under that, write one or two subpoints. Then on to the next paragraph.  When you review, this is a good place to start. 

andifnoneofthatworksandyoustilldontunderstandwhatyouread -- PUNT !! 


Try this instead: (#4) TALK TO SOMEONE -- discuss what you have read with someone, whether they have read it or not. 

MUST We Talk About It?

Every kid I ever knew went to a class with dread -- I say DREAD -- in their hearts if they knew they had to discuss the topic du jour in that class. Even if you read everything assigned the way I recommend (see section "What?? You Can't Remember?"), and all you had to do was sit at your desk, you still DREADED it, especially if they took turns, and went from row to row, and you sat at the back of row 4, so you had to watch all the other kids go before you, and your breathing was getting labored, and your heart was blasting out of its chambers at 188 miles per hour, and you just KNEW that if someone dragged their fingernails on the blackboard, you'd never notice.

Well.  Have I got news for you!!  This is (and I hate this word . . . ) DOABLE.



 1.  Skim the chapter or your notes before class. (see section "What?? You Can't Remember?")  This should jump-start your memory.

2.  Write a question you want to ask in class before class begins. Questions are valuable in a discussion because they demonstrate that you are tuned in to the issue undef discussion, and also because AT LEAST one other person in class will -- I guarantee it -- have the same question.



1. Breathe deeply for a couple minutes.This is the best advice I ever got from my high school speech teacher. Calmed me down every time.

2. Pay attention to what's being said in the discussion. (and keep up the deep breathing) 

3.  Take notes of what's been said in the discussion so far.

Then, 4. introduce your contribution with a quick summary of the discussion or point... "As I understand it...."  Restating the discussion/author's main idea also shows that you are trying to understand.

Recap: Prepare, listen, take notes.  

Source: Adapted from:



Classroom participation strategies

How to participate in an interactive class

In many of your classes, you will be expected not just to listen to your teacher, but to do quite a lot of talking as well. You need to be ready to:

  • answer questions from the teacher;
  • answer questions from other students;
  • put questions to the teacher and/or to other students;
  • make comments and give your own opinion:
    • about what the teacher says,
    • about reading for the class,
    • about comments the other students make;
  • summarise a discussion or an argument;
  • report to the whole class on a small-group discussion.

Often a class will be divided into small groups to make the discussion easier, but sometimes you will be expected to speak in front of the whole class.

In some classes you will earn marks for taking an active part in class discussions – or, put another way, in some classes you may get less marks if you do not actively participate.

Why have in-class discussions at all?

Teachers and professors encourage active participation by their students because:

  • they believe that by discussing, sharing and comparing their ideas and understandings in class, students can:
    • deepen their own understanding of what they are learning, and
    • learn from each other, as well as from the teacher and the textbooks;
  • it helps them to know if:
    • the students understand what is being taught, or if
    • they need further explanation or other help.



Preparation before class


Ensure that you do the pre-reading early, so that you have time to think about what you have read before class.

Preparing questions

Make a note of anything you are not clear about, and prepare a question to ask early in the tutorial to clarify your understanding. This will demonstrate your interest in the topic, and indicate to the tutor that you have done the required reading.

Preparing responses

When you read, try to engage with the ideas critically and actively. Make a note of any ideas about which you have strong opinions, positive or negative. Think about how you would refer to these ideas in the tutorial, or express your views about them. What language would you use?

Note-taking during discussions / Discussion grades

Discussion can be a very useful source of ideas on a topic, not only from the teacher, but also from the other participants. So it is sensible to make a note of any ideas which may be useful to you in writing assignments or broadening your reading. 

In most small classes there is an expectation that you will contribute actively to the discussion, and not simply be a 'silent participant'. In most courses, grades are given for active participation in class.

For that reason, you may also want to make notes about the words and the body language that people use as they participate in class discussions and debates.

Using visualisation

Before class, think about the questions and comments you have prepared, and visualise in your mind how the discussion will go. Most importantly, imagine yourself taking part: using people's names, getting their attention, asking questions, and commenting on what you've read and on what other people are saying.

The more positively you do this, the more it will help you in class.



In class: Taking the floor


Note: We say the person who is speaking "has the floor". This expression comes from very formal meetings (e.g., in Congress) where each person stands up (on the floor) to address the other people present, and sits down when they finish.

So when you get everyone's attention and start speaking, we say you "take the floor"

Body language

Make eye contact with the person managing the discussion, and when you have something to say, raise your hand to let them know. Leaning forward in your seat can also serve as a signal that you wish to speak. 

Sitting opposite the teacher or professor may make it easier to signal your interest in speaking. Sitting behind other people, or right at the back of the room, will definitely make it much harder.


What to say

Think about the language to use when you take the floor in a discussion.



Think of the discussion as a busy highway, and you as a driver waiting to enter from a side street. Often in order to force your way into the traffic, you need to pull out in front of another car – it is not always possible to simply wait for the traffic to stop to let you in.

There are times when you need to break in while someone else is speaking in order to make an important point. It is not rude to do that if you use suitable language. Here are some appropriate phrases to use when you want to interrupt someone else who has the floor.



Interacting with the others


Commenting on what a previous speaker has said

Think of the discussion like a tennis match, in which you can 'return' a comment or opinion expressed by another participant.

In a general discussion it's best to be able to use people's names.

Agreeing or disagreeing with a previous speaker

When you enter a discussion, it is good to link up with what has already been said – for example, by agreeing or disagreeing with a previous speaker.



Shaping the discussion


Linking the discussion back to the pre-reading

Another useful participation strategy is to link the discussion back to the reading. For example, to point out a consistency or inconsistency between the discussion and the readings. 

Limiting the scope of the discussion or of your contribution

Sometimes international students comment that they do not understand the context of a discussion or lack the necessary local knowledge. It can be useful to start by conceding what you do not know. In that way you can qualify your contribution and limit it to what you do know about.

Comments based on your experience and knowledge can make the discussion richer and more interesting. 


Sometimes it is useful to broaden the scope of a discussion by generalizing. You may not be aware of the specific context being discussed, but may have a more general understanding or awareness of the topic. 

Speculating: remember, there is not always a 'right' answer

In an academic discussion there is often not a 'right' or 'wrong' answer. Rather, there is an expectation that a range of ideas will be discussed and that they will be supported with reasons and evidence. However, even if there is a 'right' answer, and you get it wrong, the teacher or professor will still appreciate your effort in contributing to the discussion.