Advice From A Master Catechist: When the Lesson Plan Says “Discuss”

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Question: I need some tips for when it is time to hold a group discussion. Can you offer some ideas for alternatives to Q & A?


What are your students’ reactions when the lesson plan says “Discuss”? Is it something other than positive? This can be the case if your participants are shy, or they clam up for fear of being judged or made fun of. It also can be negative if you have a student that dominates all conversation or a joker who answers just to get everyone off track.

Discussion should involve an exchange of ideas, feelings, and thoughts. It doesn’t have to be a verbal conversation, either. The following are some alternatives to “just talking.”

Ask students to write down their answers or ideas on a sticky note. On the board or on a large piece of poster paper, group the answers by like ideas. Weave a thread that connects all the groups. You can do the same with index cards. After you collect all the cards from the students, shuffle them. You can either read all the answers or give each student one card to read. What conclusions can be drawn from the answers?

Turn a discussion into a game. Use Jeopardy as an outline. Or use the tried and true “Where do you stand?” It works like this: first, make a simple statement about a topic. Those who agree with the statement go to one side of the room, and those who don’t go to the other side. You can ask students why they made their choice. Don’t worry if someone says, “Because my friend did.” Share some more facts about the statement, and then ask anyone who wants to change sides to do so. You can keep this going for as long as you like.

You can get the ball rolling for talking and sharing by starting a sentence. “The Sacrament of Baptism uses the symbol of …” A student verbally or in writing adds a word or two to complete the sentence. Or rephrase a question to help participants relate to the topic. For example, the lesson might ask, “Why do you think Jesus did or said this?” Instead you can ask, “How would you feel or react if you were in the group hearing Jesus say or do this?”

Discussion can be art. Ask each person to choose a symbol that represents their thoughts or feelings about the topic. This can be a cut-and-paste project or a freehand drawing. You also can bring art to class that exemplifies Scripture or a concept you wish to discuss. Ask students what they see in the artwork or how they feel about it. Icons are great for this activity. “Wordles” are a combination of art and words — a piece of art that creates a visual pattern of words. Choose your discussion topic and write its name on a poster or whiteboard. Students each choose a word to help define the topic and write it in an artful way around your word.

When you want to have a verbal discussion, set the ground rules first: One person talks while everyone else listens. You choose how to recognize the next speaker. No jokes or derogatory remarks about anyone’s sharing. Allow quiet time for everyone to think of what they want to say.


Eileen Morgan is now enjoying retirement after 38 years of working in the field of catechetics at the parish and diocesan levels. She occasionally substitutes as a catechist for her local parish and is a lector. Eileen now has more time to write and visit with her grandchildren.

This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, September 2019


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