3 visual ways to stimulate active classroom discussions

Thomas Courtley, ex teacher and LessonUp education specialist

Thomas Courtley

Education Specialist

Cover image blog_ 3 visual ways to stimulate active classroom discussions

Classroom discussions and debates are a great way to set critical thinking in motion. Check out 3 ways to stimulate interesting classroom discussions by activating your students through visuals and interaction.

Encourage your students to deal with the tension between opposite arguments. This tension is thought to be a stimulator of critical thinking. Students often respond with curiosity to this method and, in time, report becoming more comfortable with arguing opposite sides of an issue. 

Stimulate students to picture both sides of an argument by working with pro and con grids. Students could create grids with advantages or disadvantages of an issue. Debating improves students’ ability to search literature, weigh risks and benefits, and make evidence-based choices.

Galotti proved that observing the reasoning skills of others promotes critical thinking. As part of her research students were paired, and administered 4 reasoning tasks. They were then asked to talk through the reasoning process of their decisions.The observing students were asked to write down key phrases & statements. At the end, the whole class was asked to discuss the outcomes.

News items related to classroom content also allow you to introduce discussions in the classroom. You and your students  could list and discuss assumptions made by a news article, or hypothetical follow-up questions if you were given the opportunity to interview the people involved. This way of working provides a free environment where students are stimulated to think for themselves, and take notice that their peers might not perceive news articles the same way.


1. The spinner

Spin the spinner to select 2 pairs of students to whom you can administer reasoning tasks as explained above. You could also select motivated supporters of 2 opposite arguments, or interviewers for follow-up questions related to a potential new article. The digital spinner can be used to completely randomise participation. As the spinner decides whose turn it is to speak, there are no arguments about anyone being singled out. It gives all students a fair opportunity to speak out. Have the spinner do its magic on the main classroom board: it has an activating effect on students, and inspires them to engage.


2. Mind map with hotspots

Create pro and con grids and have students write the pros and cons (defined by hotspots components) of 2 antagonistic points of view on each side of a digital slide. These digital pro and con lists are very visual, interactive and engaging. The same pro and con grouping could be done by using 2 mind maps, ones with the ‘pros’ at the centre, and another with the ‘cons’. You could team up students in teams to think about pros or cons, and then switch the teams around. Every students will be given the opportunity to dive into the reasoning behind both opinions. It encourages empathy and open-mindedness.


3. Interactive videos

Videos are a great way of bringing current news items into the classroom. Once uploaded, you can embed interactive elements into the videos to motivate your students to discuss the assumptions of a news item, ask follow-up questions, or summarise parts of a news item in their own words. You can stop and start news items as much as you like, by embedding activities, interactive elements, exercises and classroom discussions to clarify reported statements and facts. Together with your students, you could analyse a news item in detail: look for assumptions, evaluate facts and consider the context.

Interested in more? check out our white paper Stimulate critical thinking with LessonUp