Reading and Exploring Texts Part 7: Engaging in Productive Group Discussions and Debates

This series of posts goes through the Key Knowledge and Skills for the new Area of Study 1: Reading and Exploring Texts for VCE English and EAL. Each post has a brief discussion of the Key Knowledge and Skills covered, some suggestions for resources, and five lesson activities. Even if you’re not an English teacher in Victoria, I hope you find the suggestions for activities and resources useful.

Productive Group Discussions and Debates

Group discussion and debate has always been a feature of the English Study Design, making an appearance in many Areas of Study. I tend to think that it’s been underrated, and that emphasising it in the new Study Design might encourage more teachers to experiment with discussion and debate throughout the course.

You might have noticed that almost all of the posts in this series so far have included some form of debate or discussion. I believe that getting students to defend their arguments orally, to compare ideas with their peers in pairs and groups, and to share their thoughts out loud is crucial to building the kind of analytical thinking skills they need for senior English.

I’ve also written another post about the importance of oral discussions like the Socratic Seminar now that students have easy access to technology like OpenAI’s ChatGPT. I think these forms of assessment will be even more important now that we may have issues with students abusing AI writing technologies. Personally, I think that it’s a great opportunity to get back to discussion and debate as one of our primary modes of assessment.

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For resources and PL on the new study design, visit the VCE Hub


Here are five suggestions for lesson activities which can target this Key Knowledge and Skill:

  • Structured Group Discussion: Divide the class into small groups and have each group discuss a specific question or topic related to the set text. Have the groups follow a set structure for the discussion, such as starting with a brief introduction, sharing their ideas, and then summarising their main points.
  • Debate Preparation: Divide the class into small groups and have each group choose a different perspective on a specific issue or theme from the set text. Have the groups research and prepare arguments to defend their perspective in a debate.
  • Debate Simulation: Have the class participate in a simulated debate on a specific issue or theme from the set text. Have students take on different roles, such as moderator, speaker, and audience member, and follow the rules of a formal debate.
  • Reflecting on Group Discussions and Debates: After a group discussion or debate, have students reflect on their own participation and the overall effectiveness of the discussion or debate. Have them discuss any strategies they found helpful in constructing and supporting their arguments and any challenges they faced in collaborating with their group.
  • Improving Group Discussion and Debate Skills: Have students choose one specific aspect of group discussions or debates (e.g. listening skills, constructing arguments, giving feedback) and create a plan for how they can improve in this area. Have them set goals and action steps for how they can work on this skill in future discussions and debates.

Have a question about this post, or anything else related to Reading, Writing, or Digital? Get in touch below:

AI Disclaimer: I used ChatGPT to construct parts of this series. I’ll be making a full post later outlining exactly what prompts I used and going through the entire process.

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