Discussion Skills


Introduction Activity 2
Activity 1 Activity 3
Suggested Topics for Discussion Activity 4
A Discussion Leader Group Discussion Evaluation Form
Leading a Discussion


This short course is designed to help you to improve your ability to engage in meaningful discussions in English. It is also meant to encourage you to develop the self-confidence to be able to present your opinions to a group of people. The ideal number in one group would be about 5 people.

The short course will have several activities for you to follow in order to develop the skills for having successful discussions. There are also several lists of relevant vocabulary often used by participants in a discussion.

At first, the short course will seem to be largely led by the teacher, but as the course progresses, the participants will assume more control of the programme.



Activity 1

Purpose : to help you to choose a topic which you think could be of interest to the other members of your group
  to consider your audience when having a discussion

Work individually, without discussing your topics with the other members of your group.

Choose 5 topics that are of interest to you, and you think that you could talk about for 8 minutes. Try to think of a suitable title, just as if you were going to give an oral presentation. Some suggested topics are on the next page.

List the 5 topics below :

After you have listed your titles, go on to Activity 2



Suggested Topics for Discussion

  1. Abortion
  2. Academic freedom
  3. Air pollution in Hong Kong
  4. Animals
  5. Beggars
  6. Charity
  7. Child care
  8. Conservation
  9. Corporal punishment
  10. Crowd control
  11. Democracy in Hong Kong
  12. Education in Hong Kong
  13. Elderly people
  14. Euthanasia
  15. Filipino maids
  16. Hawkers in Hong Kong
  17. Health and diet
  18. Homosexuality
  19. Housing problems
  20. Human rights in Hong Kong
  21. Illegal immigrants
  22. Immigration
  23. Industrial safety
  24. Lan Kwai Fong
  25. Language teaching
  26. Law and order in Hong Kong
  27. Medicine
  28. Murder cases
  29. Mother-tongue education
  30. Noise pollution in Hong Kong
  1. People and films
  2. People and music
  3. People and politics
  4. Pornography
  5. Poverty
  6. Press freedom in Hong Kong
  7. Prostitution
  8. Sex education
  9. Smoking
  10. Smuggling
  11. Social welfare
  12. Stress
  13. Television
  14. Transportation
  15. University life
  16. Water pollution in Hong Kong
  17. Young people and drugs
  18. Young people and triads
  19. Youth problems


Topics from your subject area



Discussion Skills



Start and conclude the discussion, paying attention to the time limits.


Give all group members an equal chance to participate. You may have to control members who talk too much and to involve quiet members.


Keep the discussion on the subject. If participants move onto a completely different subject or start bringing up irrelevant points, you should politely bring the discussion back to the subject.


Keep the discussion moving. You may have to cut off discussion politely if members spend too much time on one point or start repeating the same ideas. However, you also have to decide when discussion is useful and should be encouraged.


Make sure that all group members can understand each other. You may also have to ask people to speak more slowly or more loudly so that everyone can understand them. You may also have to help speakers who are having difficulties explaining their ideas.


Summarise when needed and look for areas of agreement. Make sure that all participants understand and accept the group decision.


1 Getting Started
  • Is everybody ready to begin?
  • Okay are we ready to start?
2 Bringing People into the Discussion
  • (Name), what do you think?
  • (Name), do you have anything to add?
3 Encouraging Everyone to Participate
  • What do you think about (Name)’s point?
  • Does anyone have anything to add?
  • Would anyone like to comment on what (Name) said?



Activity 2

Purpose : to help you to choose topics that are of more interest to the other members of your group
  to consider your audience

When everyone has finished writing their possible topics, each group member should, in turn, present his/her ideas for each of the five topics to the group. Group members should try to help each speaker to choose three topics that are the most interesting to the group.

If you want to change the wordings — or even add new topics — go ahead.

After you have listed your titles, go on to Activity 2



Activity 3

Purpose : to prepare for holding a discussion
  to practice relevant vocabulary
Read, practice, and discuss the following sheets :

1. ‘Responsibilities of a ‘Discussion Leader’,

2. ‘Suggested Vocabulary for Leading a Discussion’

3. ‘Vocabulary for Listening Actively’

4. ‘Vocabulary for Exchanging Opinions’

5. ‘Vocabulary for Taking Turns’

6. ‘Vocabulary for Dealing with a Problem’

7. ‘Vocabulary for Stating Priorities’

6. ‘Group Discussion Evaluation Form’




Discussion Skills I


  • Could you go over that again?
  • I’m afraid we don’t really understand what you said.
  • I’m not sure we all understand what you mean.


Controlling People Who Talk Too Much
  • Let’s hear what some others have to say.
  • I think you’ve got a good point there. Why don’t we find out what other people have to say?


Keeping the Discussion Moving
  • Perhaps we should go on to the next point.
  • We have only a few minutes left, so could we move on?
  • Are there any more comments before we move on to the next point?


Keeping the discussion on the Subject
  • That’s interesting, but it raises a different point. Could we come back to that later?


Reaching Agreement and Summing Up
  • Do we agree that......?
  • So, to sum up, we’ve decided .......


1 Asking for Clarification
  • What do you mean?
  • I’m not sure what you mean.
  • Sorry, but I don’t understand what you mean
  • Could you explain what you mean by ...?
  • Are you saying that .........?
  • I’m not sure I follow you. Did you say that ....?
2 Clarifying or Restating (Your Comments)
  • I mean .......
  • In other words, ........
  • The point I’m trying to make is .....




Discussion Skills II


  • (Name) said that .........
  • What (Name) means is .........
  • I believe (Name)’s point is ...........
  • I think (Name) feels that ...... Isn’t that right?
  • Let me see if I understood. You said ...........


Checking for Understanding
  • Do you see what I mean?
  • Is that clear?


1 Asking for an Opinion
  • What do you think of .........?
  • How do you feel about .....?
  • What’s your opinion of ........?
2 Giving an Opinion
  • In my opinion, .........
  • Personally, I think that ........
  • It seems to me .........
  • As far as I’m concerned, .........
3 Agreeing (usually used by the ‘discussion leader)
  • (a) That’s right.
  • (b) You’re right.
  • (c) I think so, too.
  • (d) I agree with you.
  • (e) I definitely agree.
  • (f) I completely agree with you.
4 Expressing Reservations (usually used by the ‘discussion leader)
  • Yes, but.....
  • Possibly. but.....
  • Yes, but the problem is....
5 Disagreeing
  • I don’t really agree with you.
  • I’m not sure I agree with you. The reason is that.....
  • Yes, that may be true, but.....



Discussion Skills



Getting Attention

To indicate that you want to speak, you can use nonverbal signals such as leaning forward or raising your hand. You can also gain the attention of the group members during a pause by saying :

  • May (could) I ask a question?
  • May (could) I say something here?
  • May (could I make a suggestion?

or :

  • I have a question I’d like to ask.
  • I have a point I’d like to make.



If you feel that a interruption would be appropriate, you can wait for a pause in the conversation and then say :

  • Excuse me, but........
  • Pardon me, but........
  • Excuse me for interrupting, but.......
  • Sorry to interrupt, but........


Keeping Your Turn
  • Excuse me, I’d just like to finish this point.
  • If you could wait for a second, I’m just about to finish my point.
  • Could I please just finish my point?


Continuing after an Interruption
  • Anyway, .......
  • As I was saying, ........
  • In any case, .......
  • Going back to what I was saying,......
  • As I was saying, .........




Discussion Skills


Emphasizing a Point
  • It seems to me that the real issue is.......
  • I think the basic cause is......
  • As far as I can see, the main problem is......
  • In my opinion, the basic problem is......


  • In my opinion, the main thing is.....
  • As I see it, the most important point is....
  • I feel that the most important consideration is.....


  • (Name), would you like to give us your opinion about .......
  • (Name), what’s your opinion about .....
  • (Name), I wonder if you’d like to comment on .....
  • (Name), what’s your reaction to ......
  • (Name), how do you feel about .....




Activity 4

Purpose : to hold a successful discussion

to practice the vocabulary from Activity 3

1 Choose a ‘Discussion Leader’. This ‘discussion leader’ should follow the points written in ‘Responsibilities of a Discussion Leader’.
2 Each member of the group should in turn put forward the topics he/she wrote down in ‘Activity 2’ and present his/her point of view on this topic. The other members of the group will discuss each topic for about five minutes. Try to use the ‘suggested vocabulary’ as much as possible.

After each topic has been discussed, the teacher will ask the group to comment on their performance and then present his/her comments on the ‘Group Discussion Evaluation Form’.




Group Discussion Evaluation Form

Topic of discussion : ___________________________________
Enter each group member’s name in a ‘Speaker’ box. Evaluate each speaker’s contribution to the discussion. Put a check in a speaker’s box each time that speaker displays one of the following discussion skills. This information will then be used to evaluate the discussion.

Discussion skills








Contributed ideas



Asked questions

  Use the following key to evaluate the group as a whole :

+ = very good

= satisfactory

— = needs more practice



A :

Clarity : All group members spoke loudly and clearly.



B :

Participation : All group members contributed ideas and took equal part in the discussion.

  ___ C :

Pace : The discussion moved along at the right speed, with no long pauses between speakers.