Whole-class activities for BSL sessions

Class discussions are an effective way to encourage informal social interactions, within and between online and face-to-face cohorts. They develop a sense of learning community and class cohesion.

Students may be asked to discuss or comment on pre-readings, lecture materials and current topics.

Teaching staff will facilitate class discussion through prompting dialogue, asking questions, and calling on students. Staff may wish to follow up on whole-class or group activities with whole-class discussions.

How to implement this in your BSL session

Step 1: Determine the timing of whole-class discussion

Select the timing of your whole class discussion within your lesson plan. Consider placing a whole-class discussions

  • At a point where you have the time for a longer conversation.
  • Before a difficult concept that is important for everyone to understand before moving forward.
  • When all students require the same knowledge or information for a forthcoming activity

Allow for some extra time within your lesson plan if you or your students require any technical set-up.

Step 2: Prepare your students

Inform your students how you expect them to participate in the discussion. If it is a verbal discussion let them know if you will call on their names or if you expect them to speak up. If you are to facilitate a synchronous written discussion through Zoom chat, ask your students if they can bring a device to class and join in the zoom meeting with muted microphones. If students are unable to bring a device, they can pair with another student and have that person add their comments to the Zoom chat.

If students feel mentally prepared, they will be more willing to participate in whole class discussions. Provide a question for students to consider individually before discussing as a group. Or you may wish to use a whole-class discussion to follow up on small group discussions or activities.

Step 3: Facilitate the discussion


For small or medium-sized classes, you may wish to have a verbal discussion.  Ensure that all in-class students know where the room microphones are located. Ask online students to remain muted unless talking.

  • Ask students to only speak after raising their hand and being called on
  • Ask in-class and online students to speak up rather than wait with their hand raised
  • If speaking over one another is a problem, or if technology is lagging, first invite one cohort to speak, then invite the other.

For a larger class, consider asking direct questions and calling on students for an answer. Be sure to spread your attention across in-class and online students.


For large classes, ask students to communicate through the Zoom chat if possible. For a chat-based discussion, more direct question and answers will keep the discussion focused.

After class save the chat to an online discussion space so the conversation can continue asynchronously.

Suggested whole-class activities

Speed debating

Present students with a statement. Divide the class in half. One half are for, one half are against. Groups have time in which to develop their arguments. Students then pair up. Each pair should have a ‘for’ person and an ‘against’ person. Pupils take it in turns to put their case (1-2 minutes each) before both speaking at the same time (1 minute). The ‘for’ students then stand up and find a new partner and the process is repeated.

Buzz groups/report back

In small groups, students discuss a topic or question briefly to generate arguments, answers or ideas.

Groups report back one key idea to wider class. A summary of all the group’s ideas is recorded centrally for everyone.

Stimulus material

Present students with some stimulus material which will cause them to talk and discuss. Examples include: video, object(s), article, point(s) of view, music, image(s), infographic, statistics, items they need to identify errors in, etc.

You can present the item to the whole class or divide students into groups and then give each group a piece of stimulus material. Scaffold the discussion by providing model questions or categories of analysis.

Social annotation/collaborative annotation

Ask students to collaboratively note-take and ask questions on the weekly reading directly. Students can comment on passages, respond to directed prompts provided by the instructor, or answer other students' questions and points of confusion.

Question set

Create a set of questions you can use as the basis of a whole-class or group discussion. The questions should connect to the topic in question or a particular theme. You can present the questions orally or in writing. If working in groups, students can go through the questions at their own pace or at a pace set by the teacher. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to underpin the questions, ensuring they get progressively more challenging. Appoint a scribe (or scribes in each group) to record what is said during the discussions.

Goldfish bowl

Students work in groups of four. The teacher introduces the topic and invites groups to prepare a set of notes ready for a whole-class discussion. (You may want to make it for and against or hand out specific roles to different groups). After sufficient time has passed, the teacher asks each group to nominate two discussers and two watchers. The class forms two concentric circles (perhaps campus and remote students for BSL). On the inside are the teacher and the discussers. On the outside are the watchers. The teacher leads the inner circle in a discussion while the outer circle watches and makes notes. When time has passed, the outer circle give feedback on the ideas and performance of the inner circle. The circles may then swap over if you have enough time.

How to provide feedback

A whole-class discussion is a great opportunity for informal feedback.  To provide feedback to your students, facilitate the discussion by steering it in the right direction. For example, if a student’s answer is on track, invite other students to add to the comment. If students are missing the mark, you can change the direction of the conversation by asking more specific questions or asking for alternative answers.   By supporting or correcting specific comments or answers you are providing informal feedback to all students in the class.

Asynchronous alternatives

Support and resources

Pedagogical tags

This page was last updated on 04 Feb 2022.

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