Tips for Leading Seminars

Tips for Presenting Seminar Readings and Leading Class Discussions

Class presentations have three goals:

1) To ensure that the class understands the material
2) To develop your presentation skills
3) To facilitate discussion of new ideas


  • If you work in a group, divide the work evenly and work together to establish cohesion in your presentation.
  • You should begin with a brief presentation (5 minutes or less). You should present the content of the book or article(s) in such a way as to foster class discussion on your topic at the end of your presentation. You should have a well-coordinated set of questions.
  • Decide what should be discussed ahead of time. Give the discussion direction and purpose. Before anyone says a word, you should know what you want the discussion to accomplish. If the discussion strays, return it to its essential point(s). Do not waste the only class time you will have on the topic/readings. Waiting and listening will not necessarily provide you with what you need.
  • The most effective way to accomplish the above is to come to class with a one-page outline of topics to cover, composed in a sensible order. DO NOT RELY ON YOUR READING NOTES!
  • Chapter topics are sometimes, but not always, a good pattern to follow. You may want to include questions in your outline, but again, it is usually more effective to present your ideas in a manner that will provoke discussion.
  • Begin with an overview of the material. Hit all the highlights including thesis, the debate, source materials, method, and structure.
  • Be certain to critique, do not merely restate.
  • Be sure to relate the work to works that the class has read before.
  • REMEMBER!!! You cannot cover the entire topic in a short presentation. Decide on the most interesting, important, and controversial issues raised by the work.
  • In order to elicit responses, pose questions that have multiple responses. Concentrate on ideas, not facts. [See below for more on discussion questions.]
  • Your presentation will be evaluated based on content, coordination, completeness, understanding of the material, and ability to promote class discussion.
  • Discussion questions can seek :
    — knowledge, comprehension, and application (e.g., name, define, describe, translate, summarize, solve)
    — analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (e.g., produce an original idea, explain application, make judgments)
  • Kinds of discussion questions:
    – factual , e.g., “who?” “what?” “when?”
    – explanatory, e.g., “How would that have changed things?”
    – leading, e.g., “if XYZ had happened, would that change your mind about . . . ?”
    – hypothetical, e.g., “if we changed the scenario to . . . ?”
    – justifying, e.g., “what criteria are you basing your conclusions on?”
    – disjunctive, e.g., “of the two possibilities, which was preferable?”
    – convergent, e.g., “on what points do we all agree?”
    – divergent, e.g., “how else could we look at this?” “What was necessary for each alternative to occur?”