Quick Activity Idea: Assigning Discussion Roles

I recently read this quick tip by Rebecca Palmer in the latest addition (February, 2014) of TESOL Connections titled Quick Tip: 7 Discussion Roles for Listening Classes and I thought it would be good to share with all of you!


In her quick tip she describes how students are often assigned a role in discussions that take place after reading. These roles can also be applied to discussions after listening to encourage students to develop academic listening and speaking skills in student-led discussions vs. teacher-led discussions. 

The first step would be to pick a good listening text that could inspire an interesting discussion post listening. I would pull from TED Talks because not only would the students be able to listen on their own time (homework), but you would be able to reserve more class time for the student-led discussion and feedback. This would kind of be like a flipped classroom lesson. 

One key consideration that Palmer mentions is that each role would present for 1-3 minutes at the beginning of the discussion (with the exception of the Note Taker and Discussion Leader) and the students should be given a day or so to prepare for the in-class student-led discussion. 

Here are the roles (Palmer, Rebecca, TESOL Connections February 2014Quick Tip: 7 Discussion Roles for Listening Classes):

Note Taker. (This role is for all students.) Take notes as you listen to or view an audio or visual recording. View or listen to the recording at least twice.

Discussion Leader. Your role is to get the discussion started and to keep it going. Prepare five questions about things that surprised you or that you didn’t know before. Use these questions to begin the discussion. Then, call on each person in your group to present his or her role. Make sure everyone has a chance to present.

Summarizer. Your role is to make sure everyone understands key points. Be prepared to retell what the recording is about. Include key points that everyone needs to understand. Ask the group questions about their understanding of these key points.

Connector. Your role is to help others see connections to what they already know. Make at least two connections to your own experiences and knowledge or to the experiences and knowledge of friends and family. Ask the group if they know things from other sources that are similar to what they heard.

Word Expert. Your role is to look for words that are good to know. Choose five words that you want others to understand. In your own words, explain the meanings of the words to the group. The words do not have to be new words. Discuss with the group ways to use these words.

Section Expert. Your role is to look carefully at one section of the recording. Look for a section that is important, interesting, confusing, surprising, well said, or difficult. Explain why this section caught your attention. Ask one or two questions about the section.

Culture Expert. Your role is to notice ideas that are the same and different from ideas in your own culture. Make a list of what is different or the same in your culture. Explain the similarities and differences you find. Ask the group to make comparisons to their own cultures.

Illustrator. Your role is to create pictures or diagrams that illustrate what the recording is about. Present visuals that simplify and clarify ideas. You may draw your own pictures or you may look for pictures online and in magazines or newspapers. Ask the group for additional drawings and symbols that connect to the recording.


1. Describe the roles and assign 1 role per student, pair or small group.

2. At this point you may want to do some pre-listening activities with your students if you deem it appropriate. If not, move on to step 3.

3. Assign a text (like a TED Talk) that students can watch and take notes on according to their role for the discussion. Give them 1-2 days to prepare.

4. Each role (excepting the Note Taker and Discussion Leader) presents their findings for 1-3 minutes.

5. Discussion continues.

6. Give any relevant feedback to the students post-discussion based on listening issues the students had at home/language issues that arose during the discussion. 

What do you think? Sounds like fun, right? Let me know how it goes for you!

image: global-english.com


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