Leading A Class Discussion

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Discussion Guidelines

The first 60-90 minutes of each class will be devoted to the readings: There will be a short lecture by the professor or an invited guest on the broad topic of the papers, followed by a discussion of the papers themselves. Each student will be asked to lead at least one discussion during the quarter. You will do this either alone, or together with one other student (depending on enrollment). On the day of your discussion, please submit your materials (slides, notes, etc.) by editing the class page on this wiki. You should plan for your discussion to take about 30 minutes.

There are several goals for the discussion:

  • To lead a conversation about the papers, covering topics much like those that would be covered in a critique. You should not do all the talking, but you need to be willing to step in at any point when no one else is providing new ideas or questions.
  • To get people talking! One great way to do this is to break people into pairs or small groups for a minute or two to think about a question. Pairs and small groups give more students a chance to participate, and they help students get ideas and words flowing.
  • To touch on the high and low level parts of the readings. High level concepts are important, they help us anchor on the topic and give us some motivation for a research topic, but also don't be afraid to really dive into the details of how a technique was implemented, how a study was performed, or whether the right research question was asked.
  • You do not need to summarize the papers if a reading response was required. Assume people have read the papers and are ready to talk. If you get a sense that students are unclear on some of the concepts, feel free to recap important points and details; but in general, focus on discussion, not summarization.


Before class on the day of your discussion, read through all other students' critiques. (They will be posted for everyone by 11am on the wiki). You are expected to weave ideas from everyone's critiques into the discussion. One way to do this is to include provocative or insightful quotes from students in your slides.

Think about in-class activities that get students actively engaged. We're very open to students trying something innovative or different during the discussion they lead. However, if you are going to do something like this, please talk to us about it several days beforehand (via a Piazza message) so that we can help you determine if it is appropriate and achievable in the amount of time you plan to spend.

See the grading page for details on how the discussion you lead will be evaluated.

Credit: These guidelines are from Scott Klemmer's CS376 course at Stanford.