February 2019

This is a collection of resources compiled for and by participants in the FLO MicroCourse: Write a compelling discussion prompt.

Have you come across exemplary discussion prompts, articles, tips, and tools you would like to share? Add them to the Open Forum and your facilitators will maintain this resource page.


Kelvin Thompson, Aimee DeNoyelles, Baiyun Chen and Linda Futch (2016). Discussion prompts. In Chen, B., deNoyelles, A., & Thompson, K. (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning. Retrieved February 12, 2019 from https://topr.online.ucf.edu/discussion-prompts/.

Stanford University Teaching Commons. Designing Effective Discussion Questions. Retrieved Feb 13, 2019 from https://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/resources/teaching/student-teacher-communication/designing-effective-discussion-questions. [Note: Although this article doesn't specifically mention the online mode, the advice can absolutely work for asking discussion questions online.]

Rebecca Zambrano, The “Big Bang” of Motivation: Questions That Evoke Wonder in Our Students. Retrieved Feb 19, 2019 from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/the-big-bang-of-motivation-questions-that-evoke-wonder-in-our-students/


  • Amplify your questions using ideas from Liberating Structures. For example, rather than ask: What would you do differently? try "If you were ten times bolder, what would you do differently? (Inspired by the invitation from 25/10 Crowdsourcing) Or ask students to brainstorm the worst that could happen (like our discussion prompt for you!) (Inspired by TRIZ)

  • Think about what it could look like to use visual discussion prompts (photos, icons, animated GIFs, etc.) to accompany your text instead of just text alone.

  • Ask students to shift their focus from the course topic to a new context that has similar elements to it, to try to gain deeper insight about the challenge at hand.  For example, "hospital emergency rooms have been inspired by F1 pit stop crews. Henry Ford's assembly line was inspired by observing systems within slaughterhouses and grain warehouses".1 Check out Analogous Inspiration, a design thinking process from DesignKit.org, to spark your thinking.

  • Start with a story. There's a reason you're teaching your subject, right? You probably have lots of stories to tell. Use storytelling to grab your students' attention...then ask them your discussion question. (If you don't believe us, maybe the Pixar guy who directed Inside Out will convince you...)


  • Envision how your learners might respond to your discussion prompts. Will the discussion be sustained? Is there danger of exhausting "right" answers quickly? 

  • If you are encouraging your learners to generate ideas, how will they move beyond the brainstorm? Can you set up richer possibilities at the beginning?

  • From Sylvia's personal notes from a course with Linda Harasim 
    • Make sure your initial question(s) is general enough that everyone can contribute
    • Draw on people's experiences rather than their expertise

  • Avoid setting up for:
    • assignment or essay type single contributions
    • yes and no responses
    • personal review/reflection type sharing that might be better suited for a journal activity
    • leading questions (where the answer is entirely obvious)
    • slanted questions which favour one side of an argument or another, and closes down alternative points of view
    • overly formal language
    • Define the goals of the discussion. What kind of discussion prompt would best support your stated learning outcomes? (From Barron, Allyce. Discussion Prompts. T&D. Jan 2014, Vol. 68 Issue 1.)
      • Consider the type of discussion you'd like to have, for example: brainstorming, debriefing or reflecting on learning activities, applying new skills or knowledge or evaluating the learning experience. (From Barron, Allyce. Discussion Prompts. T&D. Jan 2014, Vol. 68 Issue 1.)

      1Dam, Rikke and Teo Siang. Learn How to Use the Best Ideation Methods: Analogies. Interaction Design Foundation. Retrieved Feb 13, 2019 from https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/learn-how-to-use-the-best-ideation-methods-analogies.

      Last modified: Tuesday, 19 February 2019, 9:07 PM