Guided discussions to enhance students’ oral communication skills and create community in the classroom Faculty Spark - View, reflect and apply

Last updated on 23/07/2019

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Guided discussions to enhance students’ oral communication skills and create community in the classroom


Communication can serve as a powerful tool to connect people. In a first year course, the primary aim is to develop students’ knowledge of the various forms of communication and enhance their abilities to communicate with confidence and influence.


Communication skills can set a graduate apart from their peers and connect a diverse range of individuals. It thus becomes a key challenge for educators to design meaningful learning opportunities to develop students’ ability to converse professionally and with confidence with their colleagues.

Across a distinct and diverse student cohort of Bachelor of Arts, Communications, Journalism and Dental Health students, a key challenge has been to meaningfully engage students who have varying levels of apprehension and abilities to converse in the spoken form. A weekly guided discussion was introduced into the tutorials for the course Fundamentals of Communication, as a means in which to engage students in course content and develop their abilities to converse in the spoken form with confidence, respect and professionalism.


To develop students communication skills, weekly guided discussions were introduced into the first hour of tutorials (each tutorial is two hours in duration). These weekly guided discussions account for 30 per cent of the total marks for this course.

A week prior to the tutorial, a set of guided questions relating to the weekly readings are provided through Learning@Griffith. Students must relate their readings to a personal anecdote or something that they have observed in the media, YouTube or an article that they have read. The rationale for this approach is that if students internalise the topic, and talk about it with their peers, they can gain a greater understanding of the content and see the relevance beyond the class. In turn, it transforms the way that students perceive their education, from a utilitarian manner, to seeing value in how they can contribute to the learning experience of others.

Ground rules
In the first tutorial, a range of ground rules for guided discussions are established (e.g. show respect for other viewpoints; don’t talk over other people; allow for silence as some people may need more time to speak up).

Marking system
Expectations from the guided discussions are made explicit to students in the course profile and at the start of the trimester. Each week, students’ contributions are assessed by their tutor through a shorthand system of marking. They are assessed on how well they have connected and analysed the literature in light of current events. The weekly shorthand marks, which are lodged in an Excel spreadsheet are as follows:

0 = No verbal contribution made
✓- = Contribution only tangentially related to weekly topic
✓ = Contribution is on-topic but no references are made to the reading/s
✓+ = Contribution shows engagement with the reading/s

At the end of the trimester, the tutor tallies the weekly marks. If the student has contributed every week and all weeks’ contributions are a ✓+, the student receives a 7. If the student has contributed every week (or missed 1 or 2 discussions), and majority of contributions are ✓+, they receive a 6. If weekly contributions are mostly ✓, then the student receives a 5. A comprehensive guide is provided to students, as below:

  • 1 to 3 - rarely contributes to discussion and shows a low level of engagement / interest in the subject matter or course. Does not actively participate in post-discussion activities.
  • 4 - Demonstrates a basic level of engagement during the tutorials or only occasionally makes input during tutorial discussions. Any comments and/or questions may not show reading the assigned readings or attending the lecture; participation in post-discussion activity is only semi-regular and/or at a minimal level.
  • 5 - Usually engages with the materials presented during the readings and/or lecture. In most cases, the comments are relevant but do not always make reference to content from the lecture or readings and semi-regularly contributes to tutorial exercises.
  • 6 - Clearly engages in the materials presented during the readings and/or lecture. Often makes comments and/or responds to questions posed by the tutor or classmates that make overt references to the lecture and reading. Regularly demonstrates a dedicated level of engagement with activities.
  • 7- Clearly engages with the materials. Makes weekly comments and/or responds to questions posed by the tutor or classmates with reference to content in the lectures and readings. Shows leadership by driving the discussion forward with engaging questions and ideas and/or sharing additional sources relevant to that week's topic. Actively engages in activities.


Overall students have expressed a greater degree of confidence in their ability to contribute to their peers learning experience and within a learning community. As this course sits within the first year of their studies, it enables students to apply what they have learned to their future studies.

Furthermore, this approach enables students to gain a greater sense of how the course connects to their everyday life and future profession. An illustrative comment made by a student included, “This was my favourite course this semester. It was so fascinating and the material was very relevant to everyday life. I recommended this class to all my friends; I think there is a vital importance to understand how we communicate, especially in the technology age, where messages are often misinterpreted.


If you are thinking about implementing this approach, consider the following:

  • Develop a transparent marking system so that students have a clear understanding of the expectations required of them;
  • Do not fall into the trap of marking based on attendance. Develop a range of guided questions to stimulate discussion;
  • Establish ground rules which highlight respect for others viewpoints.

Griffith Graduate Attributes

This assessment item clearly aligns the following Griffith Graduate Attributes:

  1. Knowledgeable and skilled with critical judgement;
  2. Effective communicators and collaborators;
  3. Innovative, creative and entrepreneurial.

Within this assessment item, students are required to analyse a range of literature and express in a professional and respectful manner their perspectives on how it connects to their everyday life.

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Preferred Citation

Barrett, C., & Learning Futures. (2019). Guided discussions to enhance students’ oral communication skills and create community in the classroom. Retrieved from