Ways to Get Your Students to Talk in Class
The Law Teacher, Volume 2, number 1 (Fall 1994), p. 9.
Many participants at the Institute's 1994 conference shared ideas for ways to stimulate classroom discussions. Here are some ideas that you can use in your classroom:
I use two techniques for getting students interested in assigned reading. First, I begin a class or a case with a question designed to elicit from students an aspect of the reading that they find interesting - and particularly to circumvent the tendency of students to begin by reciting the facts. Examples:
- Say something interesting about this case.
- What makes this case interesting?
- What makes this case close?
- What makes this case worth studying?
- What makes this case wrong?
- What is the weakest aspect of the opinion(s) in this case?
Second, I assign students the role of counsel for one party to a case and ask them to discuss the case (or issue) on their clients' behalf. In the process, I pit student against student more often, intervening less often.
Submitted by Michael Kelly
University of San Diego School of Law
To spark discussion about the function of law in society, several St. Mary's University School of Law teachers distributed two hypotheses to first-year students midway through their second semester:
- Law is morally and politically neutral, and it provides an impartial method and forum for resolving disputes within our society.
- Law in our society is designed to preserve and protect the position and influence of those in power.
The project was part of a cooperative effort among four first-year professors (Amy Kastely, David Dittfurth, Doug Haddock, and Jeff Pokorak). Three of the four professors gave up one hour of class time for the project (the fourth agreed to serve as moderator).
The students were asked to divide themselves into groups of five or six, seeking to affiliate with like-minded colleagues. The formation of groups took place outside of class time. A few days after the groups were formed, one of the participating professors gave the student groups her scheduled class time to discuss the hypotheses. Each group chose one or two spokespersons.
About a week later, two of the other participating professors canceled their classes so that a two-hour discussion session could be scheduled. The spokesperson(s) for each student group were given the floor for five to eight minutes (time limits were strictly adhered to) to present the views of the respective groups. This consumed about two-thirds of the available time, and the remaining time was devoted to open discussion.
I was not directly involved in this project, but I had the pleasure of sitting in on the discussion. I have never been more impressed with the intelligence and thoughtfulness of a group of law students. I saw a side of the students I had never seen before. They showed remarkable levels of passion for their positions and sophistication about law and its function. Their use of specific examples from their substantive courses demonstrated far more appreciation for subtlety and meaning than I am accustomed to seeing. The students showed respect for each other and tolerance for each other's ideas.
Submitted by Mark Cochran
St. Mary's University School of Law
The main purpose of law teaching, as I see it, is to get students actively involved in the learning process. One method that has worked in my classes is what I call the leading-questions discussion period.
It works like this:
One or two weeks before the discussion of a particular topic (arbitration as an ADR method, for example) I distribute the assignment sheet for the topic, containing the readings and a list of leading questions.
The questions serve as guidelines to the main themes in the readings, so that a student preparing for class can pre-test his or her knowledge. Examples are: What are the advantages of arbitration over litigation? Over other ADR methods? What are its disadvantages in contrast to mediation?
When the topic comes up for discussion in class, I distribute the questions among teams of students (three or four students to each team). Usually each team is given 10 to 15 minutes to discuss the particular questions assigned to it.
After this discussion period, a reporter from each team delivers and explains the answer agreed upon by its members. Time is also allowed for dissenting opinions.
I often add some prodding questions to each team's presentation and, after all the answers are in, I will interrelate the diverse answers and expand, as necessary.
The result: lots of lively group discussions among the students and real interest and involvement in the learning process. I also believe they are better prepared for class.
Submitted by Eulalio Torres
Interamerican University of Puerto Rico School of Law