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English Language Support: Discussion skills

Discussion with academics, and your peers

The work you do in this workshop needs to be supplemented and extended with independent study. 

There are specific books on seminar skills in the library and for easy access to good resources there are up to date and useful videos and guides on ‘how to participate in a group discussion’ on the internet.  

These are just a few of our ideas: 

Tips and techniques

Seminars are the perfect opportunity to explore your subject with others and get to know your class mates in a supportive environment. 

  • Be prepared! Read around the topic area before the seminar starts. Preparing well means you should be able to contribute to the discussion. 
  • Speak!  Not just to the lecturer but to everyone in your group. Use eye contact and gestures too, body language is highly effective in helping you get your message across. 
  • Be understood! Speak slowly and clearly as it’s important to push your point. Note down your questions as you go along so others can ask you for clarification if they need too. 
  • Be an active listener! Listen carefully, don’t just hear. You must listen carefully to what other speakers say so you can effectively frame your response. 
  • Stick to the topic! Keep focussed on the topic area. It’s better to say nothing than to say something that is not related. A yes/no/I agree/I disagree interjection now and again is not effective as you need to develop and explain your point of view. 
  • Have an open attitude! Your views can change and develop as you hear other group members’ views. If you change your view along the way, acknowledge it. 
  • Don’t be afraid! Don't be afraid to speak up and contribute to the discussion. You may struggle to contribute fully to a discussion if you're not a confident speaker or you’re shy. You could also feel that the other students in the seminar are more confident or knowledgeable about your subject than you. However, most students will feel the same and be nervous around new people, especially at first. You’re not alone, so, speak out! 

Recommended books in the library

Cambridge Academic English – An integrated skills course for EAP – Upper Intermediate 

Chris Sowton 

ISBN: 0521165261 

This is a mixed academic skills book which we use to teach EAP, with chapter sections on academic groups discussions: taking part in tutorials and joining in group discussions, asking for and giving information, making suggestions, working with colleagues: generating ideas. 


English for Academic Study: Speaking  

Joan McCormack,  Sebastian Watkins 

ISBN: 978-1908614414 

This book on academic speaking skills has seminar skills running throughout. It includes: summarising outcomes of discussion, clarifying and understanding opinions, giving your own opinion, turn-taking.  


Q: Skills for success – Listening and Speaking 

Miles Craven, Christine D Sherman 

ISBN: 978-0194756129 

This book includes useful information and exercises on expressing advantage and disadvantage, conveying numerical information, taking notes to prepare for a group discussion, persuasion. 


Recommended websites

How to discuss a topic in a group.  

This is a simple video using a group of teachers to demonstrate discussion skills focusing on effective functional language.  Click here to watch  


Effective discussion skills 

A good resource highlighting the language needed for successful discussions including exercises.  Click here to read 


TedEd: Your body language shapes who you are – Amy Cuddy 

This is an interesting TedEd video lesson on ‘Your body language shapes who you are’. It examines the body language of ‘power’ and its effectiveness. Comprehension tasks are built around it. Click here to watch 


Discussion skills: how to take part actively in academic talks 

A good website that shows you how to participate in group discussions which includes a podcast, tabs at the bottom of the page to move on to different functions in a discussion and transcripts of discussions.  Click here to read 


Choose a video: Speaking British Council 

This is a general English speaking skills site, with videos and tasks to illustrate functional language use.  Click here to watch 

Languages for All

Sign up for Languages for All and get free extra English practice with the language learning application, Rosetta Stone. 

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