Your participation in tutorial discussions, group work activities, and student presentations is an essential element of active learning and may also be part of the assessment for many subjects.
To participate effectively in academic situations you must be suitably prepared for discussions. For example, it’s important to complete the required reading and to formulate relevant questions. Also, if English is not your first language, take time to build your knowledge of the language suitable for discussions.
Your preparation for tutorial discussions will require you to read actively.
Often it will seem that there is too much to read and it may not be possible to read everything on the reading list. A good method is to read at least two of the prescribed texts and to review one or two recommended texts. Naturally, the more you read, the more you are likely to benefit.
Thorough reading, however, is not simply making summaries, but focusing on the topic so that you read with a purpose. As you read:
- consider your readings in relation to the week's tutorial topic and the main points presented in the lectures, and
- think about the similarities and differences between the ideas presented in the texts.
As you make your notes:
- jot down your own thoughts, and
- prepare some questions and comments on the topic to take to your tutorial. If you’re nervous about speaking in classes, or if English is not your first language, practice your questions and comments beforehand.
Please see the Reading and Researching section of this website for further information on active reading and note-taking strategies.
To develop the habit of speaking up, be prepared to say something at the first tutorial, even if you only ask a simple administrative question such as the location of the tutor’s office. Aim to say at least one thing in every tutorial.
Even if you do not complete your tutorial preparation, do not miss the class: You can still benefit from listening to others discussing the topic.
Your body language conveys your interest in a discussion and your willingness to participate. Show your interest by sitting upright, leaning forward and making eye contact with other speakers. In this way, you will feel more involved and ready to contribute.
The easiest way to participate is to add to the existing discussion. You can do this in a range of ways:
- Agree with what someone has said.
- Ask the speaker to clarify what they mean (perhaps by asking for an example).
- Ask a specific question related to what the speaker has said.
- Give an example for the point under discussion.
- Disagree with what someone has said and give reasons for your differing opinion.
- Respond to a question that is asked of the whole group.
- Try to relate what has been said to other points discussed earlier.
As with any spoken interaction, it is important to respect the opinions of others and be aware of the etiquette of spoken interaction (for example, turn-taking).
If English is not your first language, you will need to develop your knowledge of useful phrases for discussions.
To build your confidence early on, it’s a good idea:
- to prepare a number of phrases before class,
- to think how you’re going to use them, and
- to practice them.
Keep a list of such phrases and add to your list regularly. In class, listen to phrases used by other students; add these to your list and practice them.