Experimenting with a New Discussion Format: The Round Robin

In this section, Patricia-Maria Weinmann and Brendan de Kenessey share their insights about engaging students in a round robin discussion about topics raised in the class.

Toward the end of the Spring 2015 semester, it felt like students had more to say about the topics we touched on in the course. To provide students with an additional opportunity to engage with the issues introduced in the course, we tried something experimental: a round robin discussion.

“[The round robin discussion] was exhilarating. The class was bursting with things to say. We all felt very alive that night!

—Patricia-Maria Weinmann and Brendan de Kenessey

We began by asking students to propose a list of topics they wanted to discuss (such as the death penalty, games and misogyny, etc.), and we wrote these topics on the board. Then we devoted six minutes to each topic. I (Brendan) set a timer on my phone. When the timer went off after six minutes, the last person talking selected a new topic from the list. Importantly, it wasn’t one person talking for six minutes, but rather many people contributing to one six-minute discussion. Students selected each other to contribute, as in a relay. There were about three or four different contributions within each six-minute time frame. Sometimes there were up to seven contributions, depending on how quickly people spoke. People had to be concise, because they knew they were going to be cut off by the timer. This sense of urgency infused the whole experience with energy. It was exhilarating. The class was bursting with things to say. We all felt very alive that night!

It was amazing how even just a small amount of additional discussion on a topic clarified aspects of important issues for students. One of the things we told students at the end of the session was that we hoped the round robin activity demonstrated just how much they could accomplish by just devoting a little bit of thinking to a particular topic.

We wouldn’t recommend the round robin as an “all the time, every time” classroom activity, because it doesn’t allow for the kind of in-depth discussion each topic requires. However, we would recommend using this approach at the end of a semester, after listening to several guest speakers, or after having great in-depth conversations about particular topics. It’s a wonderful way to spark students’ thinking and to boost their energy.