How To Manage Online Discussions

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It is no secret that communication is the backbone of a language classroom, as it provides opportunities for students to use the language and engage directly with the new content.

Just as in person, you will want to have open discussions between students in order to give them authentic language moments. In these instances, you as a teacher normally step back and allow students to discuss among themselves the topic(s) at hand, giving some form of oversight to ensure students stay somewhat on topic.

This common case usually works in an online environment, but when your group is north of 20 students, things can get a little bit noisy. As non-verbal cues are non-existence, students tend to speak over other students, creating chaos and instances of “please, go ahead, no, you go ahead” at every new utterance.

Not only that, but as the group number increases, another challenge is having enough students who are willing to participate, as they don’t know how to enter the conversation without interrupting their peers. So, how can we make online communication effective?

Mediate The Discussion

While our aim is to create free-flowing conversations, you can easily invite students individually to participate. This will minimize the possibility of students talking over each other. Mediating the conversation will bring students who would not normally participate to do so, too. One way of making these discussions more effective is by having the students “raise” their digital hands in order to take turns.

Cluster Discussions

This works great on bigger groups. Instead of calling them individually, invite clusters of 4-5 students to the conversation. This can be done more effectively by providing a list of topics to discuss. You can spice things up by having non-cluster students join in the conversation, either by adding them yourself, of having them step in whenever they feel it is appropriate to do so.

Donut Discussions

This one can be done by having the main cluster of students discuss a topic while asking the other students questions. This will ensure the whole class participation and you will take a more passive role.

Roulette Discussions

Do you want to make participation a game? Why not use a name randomizer? Tools such as iDoceo, or random name pickers such as Wheel Decide, Picker Wheel and Wheel of Names help make particiapion fun and challenging.

These are just some of the ideas that have been effective for me, providing my students with opportunities for interaction just as they would have in the classroom. Managing communication in this new environment is not easy, especially in large classes. Making these interactions effective and fun fall in our hands, so as with any approach, don’t be afraid to mix things up and try new things. How do you manage your online discussions?

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