Regardless of the type of discussion you're having, one of your most important goals should be to keep class discussions on track. You'll want students to participate, but sometimes their participation can lead you astray.
Picture this: During a discussion about urban sprawl you ask, "What are your views on urban sprawl?" A student raises her hand and says, "I don't like sprawl because it keeps me from riding my horse on what used to be country roads." Another student then jumps in and says, "Did you know that dog food is made out of horses?" Then, another student exclaims, "Oh gross!" And another adds, "I like dogs more than horses." So, what do you do?
There is no single method that will work for everyone when focusing a discussion. Much depends on your personal teaching style and your classroom community. Still, we believe that the suggestions below will help you think about ways to refocus discussions in your class.
If you are an instructor who values a student-centered classroom, please note that focusing a discussion doesn't mean forfeiting student involvement. We encourage you to create a student-centered environment, but we also suggest that students participate in meaningful ways.