If your classroom is anything like mine, it can sometimes be too quiet. You might be waiting for a response to a question, and nobody is willing to answer. Let’s face it, not everyone coming into your classroom is fully awake and ready to interact (maybe that’s just me). If you end up answering your own questions very often, give this a try. Break into small groups. You can do this a couple of different ways depending on your class size. For the small class, ask your members to turn to a partner and share what they think. For a larger class, you can divide into groups of three or four. This causes your members to interact more with each other and not just rely on the few members that are willing to answer. I do not recommend doing this for every question but more frequently on questions where there is not such a cut-and-dried answer.
Effective group discussions are most likely to take place when all the members feel they are important to the group. There are many factors that contribute to a sense of importance, but let's mention two here.
- Create an atmosphere in which people feel safe about sharing. Two factors are important here. First, be careful not to “shoot someone down” for their opinion, even if that opinion is theologically not correct. Always thank the person for sharing, first, then try to guide the situation to a presentation of alternate views. For example, you might say, “Many Christians feel exactly as Mary has expressed. What is another way other Christians approach this topic?” Second, leave the discussion in the classroom. Using what someone said in your class in a way that embarrasses them elsewhere is a perfect way to stop future discussion.
- Take time at the beginning of class for people to share about their week, and give updates and prayer requests as desired. Allow new people a chance to introduce themselves. Making sure everyone gets a chance to be heard in the little things will build the atmosphere necessary for all to share about the topic(s) you really want to discuss.
It is helpful to know what we are trying to achieve through group discussion. The following may be some helpful goals.
- Group discussion gives every person a chance to contribute something to the topic of discussion. Most people have ideas, many of them good. But to give everyone a chance to share, you may need to limit the time each person is given.
- Group discussion allows for a variety of ideas and opinions to be shared. You as the teacher may not agree with all of them. Simply thank the person for sharing, highlight something you do agree with if possible, and ask for additional comments.
- Group discussion builds a sense of ownership on the part of the group. If the group feels it has had a voice, the members will be much more likely to accept the conclusions.
- Group discussion, properly guided, gives the quiet members a chance to be heard.
Source: Snider, Gordon. "Tips for Teachers", The Church: God's People: Adult Teacher's Insights, page 15.