Think back to your last in-class discussion of the course’s assigned readings. Did students respond readily to your questions and demonstrate familiarity with and interest in the material? Or, did you have to expend a great deal of energy to get the conversational ball rolling? If the latter, you might be looking for some ideas that will spark increased student engagement around the process of discussing reading assignments.

In their book  McKeachie’s Teaching Tipsauthors Marilla Svinicki and Wilbert J. McKeachie share several ideas that can help prompt classroom discussion of reading assignments and build engagement around the topics you hope to address through them. We’ve summarized them below:

  • Give students a few minutes at the beginning of the class session to skim the reading and their notes. You might also ask them to jot down their own questions as they do so.
  • Break up the class into groups. Ask each group to summarize a particular portion of the reading and share that summary during class.
  • At the end of class, provide students with a set of questions that address the reading assignments you intend to cover during the next session.
  • Ask students to come to class with a list of questions based on that week or unit’s readings. Use those questions as part of the discussion. (Svinicki and McKeachie, 50-51)

If you allow use of laptops, tablets, and other technology in class, try the following discussion tactics, which can also help students put their critical reading and information literacy skills into action:

  • Create a list of Web sites that purport to be about the topic you’re covering in class. Ask students to look those sites up, then evaluate the sources’ relevance and validity.
  • Invite students to conduct their own search for sites that offer information relevant to the class topic, then share those sites with the class.
  • Turn the search into a “team effort”: give groups of students different terms, then ask teach team to present its findings. (Svinicki and McKeachie, 50-51)

What helps spark student engagement when you are discussing reading assignments in class? Share your experiences in the comments.


Reference: Svinicki, Marilla, and Wilbert J. McKeachie. 2014. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers,14th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.