Facilitating Discussions

Share responsibility for including all voices …
Listen respectfully …
Be open to changing your perspective ...

Instructors across U-M use guidelines such as these to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and collaborative inquiry in their courses.  Sometimes called 'ground rules,' community agreements, or participation norms (and there are several fuller examples below), such guidelines can be provided by an instructor or generated collaboratively with students.  In any discipline, guidelines can support a series of inclusive teaching goals:  they help clarify expectations, cultivate a sense of belonging among students, and facilitate students’ ability to engage productively with one another across their differences.  

On this page, we offer questions to consider when developing guidelines for your particular teaching setting, several examples of guidelines, and ideas about how to make use of guidelines over the course of the term

Questions and Considerations Read more »


The following guidelines can help instructors facilitate classroom discussion around controversial issues. Whatever the context, it is helpful to structure such discussions in a way that defines boundaries for the process and provides some degree of closure within the classroom. Such discussions are an especially important time to explicitly discuss expectations for respecting a range of perspectives and experiences in the room.

Spontaneous Discussions: Dealing with the Unexpected

It is wise to be prepared to respond to the possibility that a student will raise a controversial issue in class unexpectedly. Immediate response is called for, if only to decide what to do next:

  • Acknowledge the student who raised the issue while noting that students may vary in their responses.
  • Decide whether you are ready and willing to engage with the topic right away.
  • Quickly assess whether the class would like to spend time sharing views about the topic.

If students want to have a dialogue, and you want to wait on it, schedule a discussion for a later class and suggest ways that students could prepare.

Click here for further resources for making the most of 'hot moments' that emerge in your classroom when you do not anticipate them. 

Read more »


The guidelines and suggestions on this page are designed to help instructors facilitate classroom discussion around incidents targeting members of the University community based on their identities or beliefs and other behaviors that express hostility, derision or violence.  In the wake of such incidents on campus or in the wider community, instructors may want to plan discussions or be ready to handle unexpected questions. The following guidelines help address both contexts.

Whatever the context, discussion about such topics will be most effective when it:

  • is structured in a way that defines boundaries for the process, and that brings the discussion to closure within the classroom
  • somehow includes all students in the class
  • extends discourse beyond polarized and polarizing debates
  • acknowledges that facts and interpretations of specific social conflicts may change with time, but tools for conceptual understanding and dialogue will continue to be useful past the current moment

Spontaneous Discussions: Dealing with the Unanticipated

If, during class, a student raises for discussion an issue or incident involving hate or bias, consider the following strategies: Read more »


In order to create an environment conducive to productive discussions, let students know your expectations for the way they communicate with others (including you) in the classroom. As the instructor, you play an important role as a facilitator and supporter in your students’ efforts to achieve respectful ways of communicating in the classroom.

Guidelines for class participation can be designed by you or negotiated with your students. By asking for their input, you give students the sense of ownership that can help them take the guidelines more seriously. The following guidelines can be used to develop an atmosphere of mutual respect and collective inquiry. Read more »