Round table discussions can be a powerful tool for teachers and students alike. They allow all participants to share their perspective on a particular issue, discuss ideas, and refine their thinking.
By bringing people together to share their thoughts on an issue, roundtable discussions give everyone the chance to voice their opinions and engage with others who have differing viewpoints.
If you’ve tried whole class discussion strategies and small group discussion strategies like: Socratic Seminar, Harkness discussions, Pinwheel discussions, Fishbowls, Snowball discussions, or Hot Seat, roundtable discussions may just be the thing you need to reinvigorate your student discussions.
Round Table Discussion Definition
To get started, let’s go over the round table discussion definition. There are several approaches to holding round table discussions, but regardless of your slant on this engaging strategy, a round table discussion is when participants agree on a specific topic(s) to discuss and sit in a circle sharing thoughts and ideas.
What is Round Table Discussion?
Wondering what is a round table discussion? This strategy is used to engage students in their thinking that helps to synthesize new, interesting, and increasingly complex knowledge while building on their existing prior knowledge.
Roundtable discussions differ from other discussion strategies like Socratic Seminar and QFT.
A Socratic Seminar usually focuses on a specific text, whereas a round table discussion could be used to discuss a text or open-ended ideas and concepts.
QFT is used to help generate discussion questions or questions for inquiry-based learning. Round table discussions can help generate additional questions for discussion and inquiry, but round table discussions are more often used for the sake of discussing big ideas and opinions.
During a round table discussion, students sit in a circle like they would during a Socratic seminar. The circle structure is intended to convey that all ideas and input are equally valuable and will be treated as such and promotes careful listening.
Unlike in a Socratic Seminar, there is no outer circle in a round table discussion. Additionally, a Socratic Seminar seeks to find mutual understanding or a collective knowledge of participants, whereas a round table discussion is merely a way for participants to explore their own ideas and dissenting viewpoints.
Round table discussions also tend to involve fewer participants than whole class discussions and other discussion models. This allows for conversation to flow more organically, promotes engagement, and challenges students to deepen the conversation.
Round Table Discussion Format
When choosing a round table discussion format it’s important to consider your goal for the discussion. Corporations, universities, and think groups use different round table discussion formats, however for using this strategy in a high school classroom, this is the format I’ve found works best.
- Start by establishing the goal and topic for the discussion. This could be aligned with a novel you’re studying, a topic you’re teaching, research students are conducting, and so much more. Discussion goals and topics can be assigned by teachers, determined by the whole class or small groups.
- Divide students into round table discussion groups. All manners of intentional grouping strategies work for this activity and groups of 6-8 tend to be the sweet spot for meaningful discussion.
- Once students are in groups, you may find it useful to have students establish their own group norms or roles (you can also assign these to students or skip this altogether depending on what works for you!).
You may want to have one student play the moderator and another be a timekeeper. I don’t always assign roles, but if I have a student who’s particularly nervous about discussing, having them keep time and manage the order of events is a great way to get them involved while keeping them safe and comfortable. A moderator can also track participation to free you to move around the room.
- One participant kicks off the conversation and talk flows around the circle with each person sharing their thoughts. Questions, comments, and responses to the input of others is generally withheld until after everyone has shared their initial ideas.
- After everyone has shared, the conversation can return to original points and flow more organically with participants asking questions, sharing clarifications, and following up on ideas.
- While discussions are happening, teachers circulate the room and observe noting areas necessary for intervention and enrichment in upcoming lessons.
- After the discussion is complete, have students reflect on their experience and what they’ve learned. This is a great time to bring in an exit ticket or notebook response. I often like to use the “I used to think _________, but now I think _____________” protocol at the end of a roundtable discussion.
General Round Table Discussion Questions
The general rule of thumb for productive round table discussion questions is to make sure the question challenges students to generate both pros and cons.
Here are some round table discussion questions that you can bring into your classroom:
- Is it considered stealing to take extra things like napkins, ketchup, and forks from restaurants?
- Is it okay to move to a better seat at a concert or sporting event if it’s open despite not paying for it?
- Is it okay to think another person is attractive if you’re in a relationship?
- Should companies be allowed to require workers to have certain vaccinations before hiring them?
- Is a little white lie still a lie?
- Are Youtube videos of kids unboxing toys/PR packages exploiting child labor?
- Is it ethical to use AI to create art?
- Should physician assisted suicide be legal?
- Can we still justify eating meat?
- Can war ever be seen as ethical?
- Is automating jobs immoral?
- What is your right to privacy?
- Should there be a universal income?
- Is the Internet a public utility?
- Are the high salaries of professional athletes justifiable?
- When is it legitimate for a police officer to use force?
Roundtable Discussion Questions for Fiction Texts
Try these discussion questions and question stems for discussing fiction texts:
- What are the defining features of the genre of the book you’re reading?
- Who is the antagonist in your book and how do they challenge the protagonist?
- What makes the conflict in your book so compelling?
- Does the author do a good job of moving the story along?
- How relatable/convincing are the characters?
- Is the buildup to the climax appropriate?
- What makes a satisfying ending?
- Do characters have to be likable to be appreciated?
- What is the most effective point of view an author can use?
- What is the most defining moment of your book?
- What other books does this one remind you of?
- Is this book worth recommending to others?
- How would you describe the style of this book? Is it similar to anything else you’ve read or watched?
- Will this book stand the test of time?
Roundtable Discussion in the Classroom
Thinking about trying round table discussion in the classroom? Here are 10 reasons you should give this strategy a try.
- Round table discussions are super low prep
- The time investment is up to you, but a whole instructional period is not required
- The smaller group format encourages participation by all
- You get to float around and observe rather than manage
- Group roles can allow for students to lean into their strengths and talents while supporting those who may not be ready for a discussion role
- Round table discussions are flexible and can be used in various stages of a unit cycle
- This strategy encourages students to learn collaboratively
- Promotes post-discussion reflection and refinement
- Can be used for community building and SEL
- Useful for many different topics and could be used with any short story, novel, or poetry set
Incorporating round table discussion in your next unit cycle may be the active learning strategy you need to deepen students’ understanding of the material and help them refine those important soft skills they need to be successful in college and career.
The best part? Because it’s low prep and doesn’t require a whole instructional period to pull off, you can implement this strategy without having to have that sweaty palm feeling that is often in response to thinking about bringing in discussion activities.
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Round table discussions are a great way to get students to communicate much better! I am interested in teaching literature to students at one point. In most of my little classes it was difficult to get students to participate overall. I believe round table discussions will be helpful in getting more students to participate. I know at first I didn’t really like taking part in them but now I do. Doing more round table discussions is very helpful for students to get more involved and more comfortable with the activity. Literature is a hard subject for some students, Do you have any tips on how to get these students involved?
Hi Ana – Thanks for your question! I think that comfort comes in part from establishing a safe classroom community and expectations for discussion. Beyond this, giving students time to brainstorm, think of questions, and prepare is important, especially for those who may be reluctant to participate. Having multiple ways to enter the conversation can be helpful, as well (i.e. a backchannel chat). Here is a video and another blog post that will help you explore this topic in more detail: