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Facilitator's Guide to Self-Guided Learning Discussions

Using This Guide

This guide is divided into four main sections, in addition, to discussion questions throughout:

  1. Preparation
  2. Introduction
  3. Providing a Common Foundation of Understanding
  4. Helpful discussion questions to help guide your conversation, and
  5. Action-orientation and continuing the discussion.



Facilitators can use the following guidelines to guide group discussion around unpracticed conversations, regarding the topics in the self-guided learning guides. Regardless of the context, it is important to structure these discussions in such a way that defines boundaries for the process and provides some degree of closure within your space.

Keeping an eye out for potential tense situations in these group discussions around topics such as this is crucial. Immediate action is essential, even if only to decide what to do next.

1. Decide whether you are ready and willing to engage with the topic right away.

2. Quickly assess whether the class would like to spend time sharing views about the topic.

3. If you choose to have a conversation at that moment consider using the LARA model from Stanford below.

LARA stands for Listen, Affirm, Respond, and Ask Questions.

  • Listen
  • Affirm a feeling or value of the speaker.
    • “What I hear you saying is…”
    • “I sense that you feel…”
    • “It seems like you feel…”
    • “I sense we share the desire to do what is right”
    • “I appreciate your honesty”
    • “It seems we both care deeply about
  • Respond directly to the concerns or questions the speaker has raised.
  • Ask questions or add information.
    • “Why do you think you reacted that way?”
    • “How did you reach that conclusion?”

If you choose not to have a conversation at that time, consider scheduling a discussion for later class if students are interested in a dialogue, and suggest ways students can prepare.


Below are several topics to consider when planning a discussion on an unpracticed issue or topic:

  • Identifying the “why”

Start your discussion by getting people on the same page on the “why” you are all gathered for this discussion first so that people feel invested in learning. We recommend framing the beginning of your discussion by answering the questions provided at the start of each self-learning guide and having answers align with your departmental/teaching/research goals as much as possible. ​ Connecting the topic with course material, including fundamental concepts and strategies for analysis and thoughtful reflection.

    • Increasing awareness about the topic by providing information that is not generally addressed in informal discussions
    • Promoting critical thinking by helping students to understand the complexity of the issues
    • Enhancing skills for dialogue that students can take into other venues
    • Relating classroom discussion to the roles that students have as citizens within the university community and larger society

  • Establishing ground rules

Suggested Communication Agreements

    • We will speak for ourselves and allow others to speak for themselves, with no pressure to represent or explain a whole group.
    • We will listen with resilience, “hanging in” when something is hard to hear (see a message about discomfort below).
    • If tempted to make attributions about the beliefs of others (e.g., “You just believe that because...”), we will instead consider asking a question to check out the assumption we are making (e.g., “Do you believe that because...?” or, “What leads you to that belief?”).
    • We will not interrupt except to indicate that we cannot or did not hear a speaker.
    • We will assume good intentions without ignoring impact.
    • We will keep in mind that understanding and agreeing are not the same things.
    • Share the story, never the name.
    • What is shared here stays here; what’s learned can leave.

  • Creating a framework for the discussion that maintains focus and flow

    • Begin the discussion with clear, open-ended but bounded questions that encourage discussion.
    • Avoid “double-barreled questions” which pose two problems simultaneously, or “hide the ball” questions that search for a specific answer.
    • Ask questions that prompt multiple answers rather than short factual responses or simple “yes” or “no” replies.
    • Prepare specific questions to use if the class is silent or hesitant about speaking. Some examples include: “What makes this hard to discuss?” and “What needs to be clarified at this point?”
    • Encourage students to elaborate upon their comments where needed. With probing questions, an instructor can prompt students to share more specific information, clarify an idea, elaborate on a point, or provide further explanation.
    • Be prepared to re-direct the discussion if students go beyond the intended focus. Drawing attention to the readings or reminding the class about the discussion objectives are useful management techniques.
    • When students raise points that are extraneous to the focus, note that these are important but tangential.  Recap them at the end of class as other topics to think about on one’s own, to validate student contributions.
    • Recap the key discussion points or issues at the end of class, in writing if possible.
  • Including everyone

    • The Round:  Give each student an opportunity to respond to a guiding question without interruption or comments. Provide students with the option to pass. After the round, discuss the responses.
    • Think-Pair-Share:  Give students a few minutes to respond to a question individually in writing. Divide the class into pairs. Instruct the students to share their responses with group members. Provide students with explicit directions, such as “Tell each other why you wrote what you did.” After a specified time period, have the class reconvene in order to debrief.  You can ask for comments on how much their pairs of views coincided or differed, or ask what questions remain after their paired discussion. 
    • Sharing Reflection Memos:  Prior to the discussion, have students write a reflective memo in response to a question or set of questions that you pose. As part of the discussion, ask students to read their memos, and/or share them in pairs or threes.

  • Summarizing discussion and gathering student feedback

To obtain student feedback about the quality of the discussion and to identify issues that may need follow-up, you can save the last five minutes of class for students to write a reflection form through the Office of Equity and Inclusion (that can also be shared with you). Please feel free to not use the reflection form below.

Reflection Form Link:

Ask them to respond to some or all of these questions: 

    • What are the three most important points you learned today?
    • What important questions remain unanswered for you?
    • What did you learn specifically from what someone else said that you would not have thought of on your own?

(This list is adapted from Michigan University, Guidelines for Discussing Difficult or High-Stakes Topics)

Click here for further resources for making the most of 'hot moments' that arise unexpectedly in group discussion.


A Message about Discomfort
Conversations about diversity, especially those that require us to be vulnerable, can make people feel uncomfortable.  Providing a thoughtfully designed space that allows for both compassionate and critical dialogues can help your students engage with the material in meaningful ways. Encourage vulnerability and invite your students to sit in their discomfort and make learning personal and productive. Create a container in which personal growth can happen through the discomfort.

Important reminder: The priority in these discussion groups is not necessarily to focus on the denotation of the concept, but on the self-reflection from engaging in the resources listed coupled with the connecting lived experiences to the topic. Topics such as race, gender, religion (etc.) can mean many things for different people so allowing students to develop and strengthen their own understanding of these terms is important.

Please also remember if individuals have questions regarding the topic of discussion, please refer to any of the resources listed at the end of this guide. As such, it is important that you, as a facilitator, provide room for discussion of these issues, but also identify opportunities to guide the conversation to a broader discussion and how these topics affect human interaction and decision-making on our campus.


We suggest you open the discussion by proposing a set of communication agreements.

The agreements below serve two general purposes: (1) they

discourage counterproductive patterns of communication and (2) they aid in cultivating a BRAVE space* in which participants can have a purposeful and engaging exchange of ideas, inquiries, and personal experiences.

We strongly encourage facilitators, who introduced this conversation as a BRAVE space to set aside time to define what a BRAVE space is prior to setting group communication agreements. Creating this space allows facilitators to demonstrate openness to learning from others, thereby disrupting and decentering dominant narratives in which knowledge flows one way from the “expert” to the students.

Learn more about BRAVE Spaces here:


Providing a Common Foundation of Understanding

** To help you get the most from this experience with the self-learning guide and the discussion, we strongly encourage you and your students to ​walk through at least two of the resources indicated under the “build your knowledge on this concept​” section.


Discuss the experience of the self–learning guide.

1. What was it like to learn more about this topic?

2. Were you unfamiliar with any of these concepts, facts, statistics (etc.) stated under this topic or in the resources?

3. If you have these conversations, are you listening, or are you talking? Why might it be important to be able to identify your role in conversations around a topic like this?

Strategy: You may find it helpful to remain silent which encourages others to comment, acknowledge concerns of validity, ask the participants “what was useful/provocative/interesting about the information in the guide?” ask other participants how they see themselves relating to this topic, etc. 

To move the discussion forward, consider asking:

1. Were you able to see any connections between the information listed about this topic and your lived experiences?

2. Were you able to see any connections between the information listed about this topic and a lived experience of a friend, relative, (etc.)?

3. How do you think this topic relates to any past experiences you have had with students, faculty, or staff?


Action Orientation

It is important that people leave the discussion committing to an action informed from the knowledge they just gained. Dedicate time at the end of the discussion to brainstorm action items as individuals, teams, or as a class/department/unit. Make sure to take notes and follow up with the group afterward with reminders or progress updates. Try to connect these actions to the existing actions and goals you have identified.


Also, consider what the next steps are after the discussion session. What comes next in your group’s continued effort towards diversity and inclusion and your goals?


Remember, the self-learning guide and discussion are just starting points. It takes time to unlearn and learn behaviors or beliefs. It takes practice and intentional effort to sustain behavior change. In order for the learning to stick, the dialogue must continue. Take some time as a group to acknowledge Drake’s resources, events, and initiatives listed under the “Increase proximity or engagement” section in the guide. 

It is highly encouraged to share additional opportunities for training that builds on the knowledge participants just gained. Please reach out to the Office of Equity and Inclusion for more information on future events and/or resources. It is recommended the Understanding Implicit Bias and Understanding Allyship as potential group follow-up training and/or continued individual reflection.


Below are some additional Drake resources that may be able to offer assistance with your training goals:

Office of Equity and Inclusion:

Academic Success and Excellence

Equity and Inclusion Facilitations through the Office of Dean of Students

University News