Tips for Leading Discussions

 Posted by on 7 January 2010 at 8:00 am  Objectivism
Jan 072010

Shortly after Lin Zinser created Front Range Objectivism’s second FROG study group, she posted the following helpful suggestions for leading a discussion based on an assigned essay. I dug up the e-mail because FRO recently created a third FROG study group. (Hooray!) I wanted to post it here, as I think her suggestions might be of use to others seeking to create (or improve) their own study groups.

Notably, while Lin’s comments pertain to studying Objectivist essays, they’d apply to almost any discussions of readings. Also, more advice and help for Objectivist study groups can be found on the uber-useful web site of the Objectivist Club Network.

Without further ado, here’s Lin’s e-mail:

These are suggestions I have regarding leading a discussion group — Take this for what it may be worth to you.

The point of the discussion group is to discuss articles, teasing out and chewing the ideas in a way that crystallizes them so that they can be understood and integrated by each individual. The discussion group premise is that anyone who attends has something to contribute in most discussions, and we are seeking a better understanding and development of the ideas based on the broader context of knowledge provided by all of the participants.

It is expected that everyone comes to the meeting having read the material. Occasionally, someone will not be able to complete the readings, but the presumption should still be made. Therefore, the idea is not to prepare an outline or book report or detailed summary of what the article said. The idea is to present a short synopsis of the article in 3 to 5 minutes to remind everyone of what the article was about, and to set the context for the discussion.

This synopsis could be a short summary and also might include specific phrases or sentences or parts that you, the leader, might have found particularly noteworthy for some reason. Or you might simply isolate the theme and purpose of the article and then identify the main parts that support the theme.

To then start the discussion, the leader could come prepared with either points or questions from the article that were confusing, puzzling or problematic. Or, the leader could prepare a few questions for discussion. One way to figure out some questions is to use the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” questions, or the “as opposed to what?” question. (Some of you may recognize these from Jean Moroney’s course… or from journalism courses)

In reading any of Ayn Rand’s works, it helps to ask — what is the point here? Why is this included? How does Ayn Rand make this point clear? How does this apply to my life? When or where do I see this viewpoint being expressed — at work, on TV, where? Do I know people who act like she describes? How should I act or behave towards them? How is the best way to respond to this behavior? Is there a better way to react to people who are saying, doing or advocating wrong ideas than the way I have reacted to them in the past? How can I use this information to better my life? I am sure you can come up with many more questions along these lines. Our group seems very disposed to discuss issues, so I think that only a few questions are necessary.

As a reader and discussion member, but not the leader on a particular article, I think it helpful, while reading the material, to figure out one question or point to discuss from each article. If most people in the group do that, there will be more than enough material for a discussion. Think about discussion points as you read the material.

These are some of my general observations and suggestions to facilitate the discussion. I want to state that I have no criticisms of anyone who has led the group. In fact, just the opposite. I am very pleased with the enthusiasm, the interest, and competence of all involved. I am very pleased, as you must be also, for the interest and discussions that have been generated.

Finally, I want to reiterate that the above are suggestions because some people have specifically asked for assistance. The point of having a leader is to guide the group to a profitable, productive discussion that will enhance your understanding of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and thereby enhance your life.

For those of you involved with Objectivist study groups, what have you found most helpful in terms of facilitating good discussion? What mistakes have you made that you’d recommend others avoid?

Last year, I posted on the three major benefits of participation in an Objectivist study group. Unbeknownst to me, Ben B. posted something for the Objectivist Club Network just a few days earlier: 3 Selfish Reasons for Running a Campus Club. Our posts were totally independent, yet our three points were remarkably similar.

(Some morons would point to that similarity as evidence of some kind of insidious group-think. That’s absurd. The real explanation is far simpler: armed with similar experiences and values, Ben and I recognized the same basic facts of the matter.)

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