Department of Communication

Discussion Exercise and Grading Rubric, U.S.


Lesson plan for first class meeting:

Devote 50 minutes to discussion of discussions

Key points:

Elements of discussion: listen, think, and respond. 
Note that a response can take the form of a question.


We will begin by generating lists of what makes for a bad discussion and what makes for a good discussion.  We will talk about collective responsibility for discussion and the way individual skills contribute to collective experience.  We will talk about setting personal goals (from the basic and quantitative—“I will speak in class at least once every other week”—to the nuanced and qualitative—“Since I know sometimes I get so caught up in making my own points that I come across as being aggressive or argumentative, I will work to introduce my own ideas by calling attention in a positive way to a point someone else has made.”) We will discuss the “discussion portfolio” concept and mechanics.  We will talk through the rubric that will be used to grade the portfolio.


Each student will, at the close of the first day, respond in writing to the following questions: What is your greatest strength as a discussion participant?  What would you like to do better?  What do you see as the biggest problem you need to overcome as a discussion participant?  What personal goals have you set for yourself regarding discussions in this course? (You should include both general goals and concrete steps you can take that will move you toward those goals.)

This written reflection will become the first item in the student’s discussion portfolio.

Text for syllabus:


Although I will lecture for 10 to 15 minutes at the start of class most weeks, the core of this course is whole-group discussion of assigned readings, of the films we view together, or of visual images I present in class.  Thus group participation is key to the success of this course.  Engaged participation does not just mean being willing to talk in class.  It involves preparing, listening, thinking, and responding.

Completing assigned readings before class and responding to the assigned homework questions are the first step in preparing for each day’s discussion.  Even on those few days when you have chosen not to hand in homework, you need to do the reading and think about the assigned questions.  I will sometimes call on people “cold” (that is, call on people who have not raised their hand) to answer an assigned question.  If the question didn’t make sense to you, feel free to say so and explain why it was confusing.

Each class discussion will not only address the assigned questions, but also use the course materials presented to build our collective understanding of the course’s core themes (see syllabus). Students need to listen carefully, think about what others are saying in the light of other course materials or previous discussions, and respond to others’ comments and questions in ways that encourage participation and reflection (see rubric).

Every week at the end of class, I will ask you to take 5 minutes to reflect in writing upon what we have discussed in class.  Most often, I will ask you three questions, of which the first two will be: “What was the most important or interesting comment one of your fellow students made in class today, and why?  What was the most important comment you made or question you asked today in class?”  The third question will vary.  (For instance, one week it might be “What is the question you most wish someone had asked today in class?” while the next week it might be “How did today’s discussion stack up against the goals for our group discussions that we generated the first week of class?” or “Describe one issue raised by this week’s assigned readings which we failed to touch on in our discussion.”)  Sometimes the concluding written reflection will take a slightly different format.  I will collect your written reflections in a personal “Discussion Portfolio” that will be graded every five weeks.  I will hold individual conferences in Week 5: you are strongly encouraged to sign up for a conference at that time to discuss your course participation and progress toward personal goals.

Discussion portfolio rubric






Student is able to recall a comment made by another student in some detail and explain why that comment was significant in the context of the day’s discussion as a whole

Student reproduces another student’s comment in general terms without specific detail, or does not explain the importance of that comment in terms of the discussion content overall

Student gives vague or inaccurate account of another’s comment and does not discuss significance at all


Student’s written reflection draws new connections: between two or more points raised in class whose commonalities or contradictions were not discussed; between this day’s discussion and a previous one; between; between issues raised in discussion and assigned readings for the course.

Student’s written reflection accurately reports several of the issues raised in class discussion, or discusses several different aspects of a single issue raised.

Student’s written reflection does not discuss any specific topic covered in discussion or does so in such general terms that the reflection could have been written before the day’s class started.


Student reports comments that combine original thinking with attention to other people’s ideas (e.g., ideas expressed by other students; ideas suggested by the course instructor; ideas expressed by the authors of assigned readings); student reports questions that compare, contrast, or point out internal contradictions in course materials or discussion content.

Student reports comments that give personal opinions but do not link them to evidence drawn from course materials or classroom discussions; student reports questions that refer to a single input (reading, image, film scene, or fellow student’s comment) and a single level of meaning.

Student reports having made no comments or questions at all.


Student sets specific goals for frequency and content of discussion participation and reflects on progress toward those goals by analyzing feedback from others and evaluating personal role in group dynamics.

Student sets specific goals for frequency and content of discussion participation and comments on progress to those goals with reference to specific examples.

Student does not set specific goals for discussion participation or comments on progress to those goals only in superficial or general terms.