Moderating Complex, Meaningful Discussions

Discussions are an excellent opportunity for participants to practise skills such as active listening, argumentation, public speaking, and consideration of multiple points of view. As a facilitator, you play an instrumental role in fostering fruitful and inclusive discussions. Below are some strategies and sample phrases to help you enhance active participation in discussions.


Sample phrases

Paraphrasing - you validate a participant's contribution and ensure that their thoughts are clear to you and the rest of the group.

"To make sure I understand what you’re saying, I am going to paraphrase…”

Connecting ideas - you encourage the group to relate their ideas, creating a synthesis that they may have not previously considered.

“It sounds like your perspective on this topic parallels John's - you both seem to raise the point that..."

Giving neutral feedback - you acknowledge a participant's point without revealing your feelings about it and ask the group to think about the idea.

"That's an interesting possibility. What do the rest of you think?"

Returning a question asked to you to the group - you empower the group to share their own knowledge and experience, and engage in the conversation.

“Does anyone have a response?”

Provide structured opportunities for reflection and input - you change the pace, allowing for new ideas to surface when discussion is lagging.

"Let’s take some time to think about alternative perspectives we might not have considered before..."

Create opportunities for all participants to partake - you ask those who have not yet participated to participate. The goal is for participants to have a choice to participate (i.e. not cold calling).

“Can we hear from someone who hasn’t spoken yet?”

Ensure diverse perspectives are welcome - you promote the diversity of ideas and reflection on new perspectives.

“What perspectives have we not yet considered? Does anyone want to weigh in?”

Refocus participants attention - you bring participants’ attention back if the discussion is going off track.

“How do the issues that have just been raised relate to the question originally posed?”

Bring closure - you allow participants to summarize the central issues covered in the discussion. Likewise, you link the discussion to the learning objectives.

“Can anyone summarize the key points we discussed?


While this web page is accessible worldwide, McGill University is on land which has served and continues to serve as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations. Teaching and Learning Services acknowledges and thanks the diverse Indigenous peoples whose footsteps mark this territory on which peoples of the world now gather. This land acknowledgement is shared as a starting point to provide context for further learning and action.


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