Group Discussion Models

Ann Porteus, Associate Director of Residential Education
Tommy Woon, Multicultural Educator

The following are some group communication models that have been used successfully for structuring group discussions (especially difficult discussions). The following are rough sketches. If you wish to learn more about them we (Ann Porteus or Tommy Woon) would be happy to spend some time talking more about them with you. As a facilitator of a group discussion you can mix and match components of each of the models to respond to the your particular needs.


Jigsaw Process

The Jigsaw Process is a structure to promote peer education about complicated issues through a small group format. A group breaks into small teams to explore parts of an issue or subject and returns to share its research with the large group so that everyone can acquire shared understanding of a subject.


Stand and Declare

Stand and Declare is a process that exposes the range of opinions that may exist in a group. Statements (controversial, or statements that will generate a range of response) are read to the group. Participants move to the corner of a room that reflects their level of agreement with the statement (the corners of the room are labeled with various degrees of agreement/disagreement). where they discuss and share their positions on an issue. Groups then report back to the larger group the reasons that they put themselves where they did. They are then allowed to change positions if they have heard anything that has made them change their minds. This process validates disagreement and the support for changing ones views.



Dialogue is a sustained form of collective thinking, inquiry, and reflection that takes places over several encounters. It enables a group to uncover the processes, assumptions and nuisances of everyday experience. Participants in a dialogue group consciously commit to examining their viewpoints, to examine where those viewpoints came from and to participate in creating a shared meaning. (Taken from "Dialogue, Collective Thinking, and Organizational Learning" by William Isaacs).


Civility Circles

Civility Cirlce is a small group process that fosters dialogue by creating an environment that is as non-threatening as possible. A group selects a topic and groundrules ensuring confidentiality are established. The group is asked to write out on index cards any question they would like to ask about the topic . The facilitators collect the cards and then asks the civility circle participants (a small group of volunteers), each in turn, to respond to the questions submitted on the cards (the goal is to have a diverse group as possible) so that the diversity of views/ideas can emerge. Civility and exploration of gut-level issues are the goal. All questions are encouraged and considered important.


Debates or Panels

Panels and debates are processes that structure the discussion around pros and cons and create the opportunity to bring in a balance of views. Panels or debate formats should be designed to represent real balance. Panels and debates typcially allocate specified amounts of time to the panelists or debaters. Panels encourgage audience participation through a question and answer format. Panel and debates require good facilitation.


Constructivist Listening

Constructivist Listening is designed to give everyone an opportunity to: reflect on the meaning of their experiences, events in their lives, and ideas; express their thinking; to explore feelings that are interfering with or enhancing clarity of thought; to construct new meanings; to make their own choices and decisions. Constructivist listening acknowledges that both cognitive and affective processing are necessary for increasing understanding. Learning, from the constructivist perspective is a result of self-organiztion, and constructivist listening is designed to facilitate each person's self-organization. Constuctivist listening is purely for the benefit of the speaker and is occurs in environments free of judgments and interruptions; it is designed for the listening to help the talker explore his/her thoughts and feelings. A facilitator leads a group through a series of dyad (pairs), alliance panel and/or support groups (people who share some common characteristic). (Taken from "Constructive Listening for Empowerment and Change" by Julian Weissglass.)


Role Plays

Role playing is a process of experiential learning. People are invited to participate in a role play. Two or more volunteers are given different positions to play in a discussion (or conflict) on the topic under consideration. Some might be given the role of advocating the pros, some the cons, some the devils advocate, etc. This allows the whole group to see and then discuss the same topic (or conflict). The observers are invited to discuss the role play and the issues raised in the role play after it is over.


National Public Issues Forum

The National Public Issue Forum is a comprehensive process for a community to overcome polarization and to develop policies. A volunteer community selects a controversy to address and engages in structured learning, debate and negotiation to identify common ground. The key is the commitment from the discussion participants to find the common ground from with to move through the polarization. This is defined as "choice work" - - to enable a community to become more informed about an issue, to create a sharper definition of the public interests, and to identify a range of actions that the public would support.


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