Co-op Best Practices > Adult Education Practices: Guided discussion for increased motivation

Adult Education Practices: Guided discussion for increased motivation

posted on March 5, 2004

As Co-operative Education Professionals we know how students can help ensure a smoother, more straightforward placement process. We have a solid understanding of the skills that must be developed and the common sense tasks that must be completed. So why is our good advice so hard to swallow? Why are students sometimes passive, de-motivated or skeptical? The reason may relate to how we go about the task of teaching.

Traditionally college and university level students learn in lecture based environments where the instructor tells them what they need to know. The students typically take notes and on occasion, ask a few questions at the end of the lecture. In hopes of engaging the class in discussion, the instructor may ask learners what they think about a given topic. Oftentimes, students’ caste their eyes down and hope for invisibility. Or worse, they launch into a heated debate that flies out of the instructor’s control.

One practice that helps overcome these barriers to teaching is to engage students in guided discussion. Guided discussion is a practice that gives students the opportunity to connect with the learning objectives on a more personal level and in doing so, find meaning and purpose behind the good advice we have to offer. Two excellent methods for guided discussion include “Think-Pair-Share” and the “Readiness Assessment Test”. Both practices are engaging, maintain class control and jump start the motivation to transfer learning into action.


Think-Pair-Share is an excellent guided discussion structure primarily because it allows for individual “think time”. Rather then immediately opening the floor for discussion the instructor poses a question and then allows students a few minutes to think about their ideas and note them down. Once students have had time to “think” they are then paired up to discuss their ideas with one another. Finally, the floor is opened for the class to discuss the topic as a whole group.

Steps for Think-Pair-Share

  1. The instructor poses a thought provoking question. For example, “If there are few “right” answers in the world of work how can you ensure you are an A-level employee?”
  2. Individually, students “think” about the question and note their ideas.
  3. In “pairs”, students exchange and discuss their ideas.
  4. Finally, the instructor randomly calls on students or asks for volunteers to “share” their ideas with the whole class.


  1. Students appreciate knowing what’s expected of them. Indicate from the start that you will be asking them to share their ideas with the whole class.
  2. Instructors are often tempted to skip the “think” component of this method. Keep in mind the “think” helps activate personal interest in the topic and leads to higher levels of motivation.
  3. Some students are reluctant to work in pairs with someone they don’t know. Encourage a “get-to-know-you” moment where pairs share their name, program of study and something cool about themselves.

Readiness Assessment Test

The “Readiness Assessment Test” or “RAT” is simply a test that tries to capture students’ current knowledge on a given topic. It is often used for exam preparation but can also be used in a light-hearted manner to guide discussion.

Steps for Readiness Assessment Test

  1. The instructor gives a simple but thought provoking “RAT” which draws on knowledge currently held by students. Six to ten questions maximum. No studying required.
  2. Working individually, students answer each question. Example question:A resume should have: a) 1 page, b) 2 pages or c) 3 pages
  3. Once everyone has completed the “RAT” the instructor asks the class for the “right” answers and rationale. Because all three answers to our example question could be right a mini guided discussion will ensue.


  1. When giving instructions for the activity it is important to indicate that the “RAT” will be used as a tool for discussion. That being the case, it is very important to indicate that students must not only choose an answer but also, be prepared to articulate their rationale for each selection.
  2. Test questions should be thought provoking. Like our example, a resume can be one page, two pages or three pages (or more) depending on where you live or what company you are applying to. Multiple correct answers help generate interesting discussion.
  3. Once opposing answers and rationale have been heard tell students the “right” answers based on your organization’s perspective. But remember to give your rationale - they’ll be expecting it!

Guided discussion is an energizing, fun and effective method for teaching co-operative education skills. By allowing students the opportunity to think, develop rationale and share ideas skill development is no longer something that needs to be “swallowed”. Rather, it is a chance to build knowledge and motivation for success in the co-operative education placement process.

Jeela Jones has incorporated both of these techniques into the University of Ottawa Co-operative Education Curriculum. For more information on these or other adult education practices please feel free to contact her at or 613-562-5800 x. 6884.