[ym360 Note: This is a repost of one of our most-read articles over the past two and a half years, or so. It definitely still holds up. If you haven't read it, take a moment to check it out.]
Chances are, if you work with youth, you lead group discussions. Whether it's small groups or large groups, there are times (probably many of them) where you are in front of a group, helping to guide a discussion on any variety of topics.
So what does it take to lead awesome discussions?
I'll share a few basic tips in a moment.
But first, I want to challenge you to think about your role as discussion leader. I want to challenge you to think of yourself less as a teacher and more as a facilitator. The difference in these roles is subtle, but important. Teachers instruct. And while you may be an interactive teacher, teaching is usually done (whether by default or not) in a lecture format. However, when your goal is to lead a group discussion you are more likely going to play the role of a facilitator.
A facilitator is defined as "one that helps to bring about an outcome by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision" (Webster's). See the difference? Grasping the shift in roles is actually the first step to running great discussions!
Below are some more guidelines you may consider implementing as you facilitate your group discussion:
Create A Safe Environment
A safe environment is one where students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts without fear of being ignored, marginalized, or worse, ridiculed. This is important. Creating a safe environment will go a LONG way toward facilitating great discussions. How do you go about doing this? Here are some thoughts:
- Be extremely aware of your nonverbal (i.e., nodding, smiling, eye contact) feedback to those contributing to the discussion.
- Stay in-tune with students' nonverbal feedback, as well.
- Don't let any student dominate the discussion.
- If you notice others snickering at a comment just shared, you have to address it. (You can gently do this during the group or afterward.)
- Even if you don't agree with students' comments or perspectives, don't tune them out or disregard their input.
- One of the greatest ways you can help group members feel "safe" is by simply listening to them until they've finished talking, and then repeating back what you've heard them say. This behavior does not express agreement with what they've shared as much as it says to them that you value their efforts and heard what they had to say.
- And, at risk of this being obvious, I still need to say that you never say anything that could be mistaken as embarrassing by members in your group.
It's wise to have an outline of specific points and discussion questions you want to cover during the group. Think of this as your road map of where the discussion might go. However, the dynamics and needs of the group may go in a direction, one you had not predicted. It's best to strike the balance of being willing to go "off course," and yet capable of bringing the discussion back to the planned goals. Don't be afraid of this! Oftentimes, these are the best groups!
Offer various mediums for discussion
Group discussions do not have to always be people sitting in a circle, talking. Group discussions can be done with someone writing answers to questions on a white board, or by implementing "icebreaker" types of games. For example: One of the best discussions I had with a group was playing the concentric circle game. It only requires three different sizes of rope (making them into small, medium, and large circles on the floor) and candy. As group members throw their candy into one of the rope circles, they share something about themselves or the topic at hand. The smaller the circle the candy lands on, the more personal the sharing.
A great group discussion could take place while playing a game of basketball or just walking around a park. Don't feel confined to sitting in a room! Oftentimes, discussions in these more natural settings lead to members feeling more at ease anyhow.
Facilitating a great discussion is not always easy, and it takes some practice. But with a little intentionality, your discussions will take on a life of their own, providing the vehicle for meaningful spiritual growth in your students.