Small-Group Discussions for Critical Thinking about Global Issues

Educator effectively selects and facilitates a small-group discussion protocol in which students think critically about a global topic, concept, or issue.
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About this Micro-credential

Key Method

The educator identifies a discussion protocol appropriate to the classroom context and one that will engage students in thinking critically. The educator facilitates student participation in a small-group discussion that involves critical thinking about a global topic, concept, or issue, and facilitates a reflective debrief of the experience.

Method Components

How can small-group discussion protocols help students think critically about global issues?

The small-group discussion protocols recommended below are designed to engage students in critical thinking by applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information and ideas. The small-group setting and structured discussion format calls on students to think deeply, contribute their thinking to the conversation, listen attentively, and respond thoughtfully to one another (see “How to Build Effective Collaborative Groups,” “Group Work and Group Discussion,” “Formative Assessment: Collaborative Discussion,” and “Think Time and Collaborative Learning” in the Resources section).

How is critical thinking important for global competence?

Critical thinking is an essential element of global competence. In order to understand the complex and interdependent nature of world events and global issues, students must think critically about the historical forces that have shaped our current world system and the myriad conditions that fundamentally affect diverse global forces, events, and issues. As they become more globally competent, students learn to question prevailing assumptions and to apply critical, comparative, and creative thinking to understanding and solving problems. In short, students must think critically in order to explore the world, examine its complexities, and make sense of them. (See the Resources section for more information.)

Examples of Global Topics or Issues for Small-Group Discussions for Critical Thinking about Global Issues

  • Habitat loss in the Amazonian rainforests- In this discussion, students must weigh the perspectives of conservationists who see value in preserving biodiversity and habitat against the perspectives of ranchers and farmers who rely on the land for their livelihood.
  • Enhanced food production- In this discussion, students must weigh concerns about genetically-modified foods against the interests of many other countries to provide abundant food supplies to their people.
  • Access to energy- In this discussion, students use the example of the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan to weigh the need for reliable energy against the importance of global safety.

Suggested Implementation Strategies

  1. Based on your classroom and curriculum context, identify the global topic, concept, or issue students will be discussing. If appropriate, provide students with information about the issue/topic through reading(s), video(s), and/or other learning experiences designed to build their background knowledge.
  2. Select a small-group discussion protocol that will engage students in critical thinking. See the menu of “Suggested Small-Group Discussion Protocols for Critical Thinking” in the Resources section. Prepare any needed materials and arrange the classroom as appropriate to the protocol you have selected.
  3. Facilitate the discussion and conclude with a debrief in which you ask students to reflect on how the discussion helped them think critically and how this deepened their understanding of the global issue. One suggested strategy is to engage students in “Debrief Circles” (see Resources). Students should also record individual written reflections before and/or after the reflective debrief.

Research & Resources

Supporting Research

The use of small-group discussion is a collaborative and constructivist teaching method widely recognized as a high-yield, best-practice instructional strategy (Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde, 2005; Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock, 2001). When students are engaged in participating through meaningful contributions to a small-group discussion, they are more actively involved in thinking and learning. Small-group discussions promote inquiry, higher-order thinking, cooperation, and student responsibility, all of which have been shown to increase student achievement (Hattie, 2009). Small-group discussions engage students in critical thinking, working collaboratively, and communicating effectively, all of which are hallmarks of deeper learning (Vander Ark and Schneider, 2014).

  • Hattie, John. “Teaching Effects: Influences and Effect Sizes Related to Student Achievement.” Visible Learning, 2009.
  • Marzano, Robert J., Debra J. Pickering, and Jane E. Pollock. Classroom Instruction That Works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2001.
  • Vander Ark, Tom and Carri Schneider. “Deeper Learning for Every Student Every Day.” Getting Smart, 2014.


Global competence refers to the knowledge, skills, and dispositions individuals need to be successful in today’s interconnected world and to be fully engaged in and act on issues of global significance. The Global Competence Task Force defined globally competent individuals as “those who use their knowledge and skills to investigate the world beyond their immediate environment, recognize their own and others’ perspectives, communicate their ideas effectively with diverse audiences, and translate their ideas into appropriate actions” (see link below).

Example Global Competence Frameworks

  • The Global Competence Matrix was created through a collaboration between World Savvy, Teachers College, Columbia University, and the Asia Society. The matrix identifies components of global competence, which assists educators as they foster global competence in themselves and develop it in their students.

Example Global Issues

Suggested Small-Group Discussion Protocols for Critical Thinking

The discussion strategies below are widely used by educators across the field. The following organizations provide helpful explanations of how they work through written descriptions and illustrative videos:

Small-Group Discussion Protocols

  • Four A’s Text Protocol (SRI)
  • Save the Last Word for Me (SRI)
  • The Final Word (SRI)
  • Discussion Web (RWT)
  • Learn to Listen/Listen to Learn (FH)
  • Accountable Discussions (TT)
  • Consensus Decision Making (RWT)
  • Conver-Stations (TC)

Submission Requirements

Submission Guidelines & Evaluation Criteria

The items in this following section detail what must be submitted for evaluation. To earn this micro-credential, you must receive a passing evaluation for Parts 1 and 3 and a “Yes” for Part 2.

Part 1. Overview Questions

(500-word limit total):

  • What were your goals and expectations for engaging students in the small-group discussion of the global topic, concept, or issue? How did you select and plan for the discussion protocol you chose with these aims in mind?
  • What did you observe during the discussion? Please describe what you heard and noticed as students were engaged in conversation and what you did as the facilitator.

Part 2. Work Examples/Artifacts

Please submit a video or audio recording of students participating in the reflective debrief at the end of the discussion (maximum length: three minutes) OR written reflections from three to five different students that demonstrate how the discussion helped them think critically the global issue (maximum length: three pages).

Part 3. Reflection

(750-word limit total):

  • What did you learn from your own experience planning and facilitating the small-group discussion of a global topic/concept/issue? How did you engage students in critical thinking through the use of the selected discussion method?
  • What did you learn from your own observations as well as the insights students shared in the reflective debrief and in their individual written reflections?
  • Given what you’ve learned, what will you do the next time you implement a lesson using small-group discussion to help students think critically about a global topic/concept/issue? Please include things you will do the same and differently in the future.

Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under:
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


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