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Asking questions and joining in discussions are important skills for university study. This part is intended for self-study. You will be shown a number of discussion strategies along with a wide range of useful expressions for a variety of situations you may encounter when discussing a topic.

What can you learn through discussions?

To express opinions and support them with evidence, understand a subject or topic area more deeply, argue constructively, develop critical thinking skills, improve your language skills, speak with confidence and authority, work collectively on problems, and learn to come to a conclusion or solve problems.
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Learn to listen Listening is an important element of any discussion. Active listening is a skill that requires practice to develop.
  • Be an active listener - stay attentive and focus on what is being said. Listen with an open mind and be receptive to new ideas and points of view. Think about how they fit in with what you have already learnt.
  • Evaluate what is being said. Think about how it relates to the main idea/theme of the discussion.
  • Test your understanding. Mentally paraphrase what other speakers say. Take notes during the discussion about things to which you could respond.
Prepare You cannot contribute to a discussion unless you are well-prepared. Make sure you carefully review your study notes from previous lessons and read any assigned readings. Make a note of anything you are not clear about, and prepare questions to ask. Note ideas about which you have strong opinions, positive or negative. When you read, try to engage with the ideas critically and actively. Think about how you would refer to these ideas in the discussion or express your views about them.
Participate If you find it difficult to participate in a discussion, set yourself goals and aim to increase your contribution in each class. It is perfectly normal to feel nervous when engaging in discussion particularly if you are expressing yourself in a foreign language. If you are nervous, start by making small contributions:
  • Be an active listener - stay attentive and focus on what is being said. Listen with an open mind and be receptive to new ideas and points of view. Think about how they fit in with what you have already learnt.
    • look interested and concentrate when someone else is talking
    • make notes about ideas which may be useful to you
  • say something in the next discussion; for example:
    • agree with what someone has said
    • ask to expand on a point (an example or more information)
    • ask for clarification

You can then work up to:
  • providing an example for a point under discussion
  • answering a question put to the group
  • saying why you agree or disagree with someone’s point

You can also be a good participant by:
  • encouraging others to speak
  • summarizing the discussion
  • returning the discussion to the main point
Voicing an opinion and arguing a point effectively To 'argue' in an academic context is to put forward an opinion and support it either by evidence or through the process of reasoning. It is not important who 'wins'—what matters most is the quality of the argument itself. Voicing an opinion Participating in a discussion can be difficult, especially when you are not sure which language structures to use. You may have a great idea, but you need to communicate it effectively and be able to defend it.

Voicing an Opinion - Useful Expressions
Stating a valid opinion (a point of view)
  • I believe/think that...
  • From what I understand... As I understand it...
  • It is argued/could be argued that...
  • It seems that…
  • In my opinion…
  • I suggest…
  • Personally, I think…
  • From my perspective, owing to…
Making a tentative claim
  • This could/might/should indicate…
  • It can be seen that in certain circumstances…
  • It is likely/probable that…
  • It is proposed that…
  • It is not unreasonable to expect that…
  • In the light of these findings…, given these circumstances it is likely that…
  • My findings/experience indicate…
  • I have found that…
Giving a reason why
  • This is due to...
  • Because...
  • What I mean by this is...
  • Since…
  • Owing to…
Providing evidence (relevant examples, statistics, explanations and/ or expert opinions)
  • This can be seen by ...
  • For instance / For example...
  • An example can be seen...
  • (Author's name) states that... / suggests...
  • Statistics from (give a source) indicate...
  • In his/her article, (author’s name) argued that…
  • We need to keep in mind (author’s name)’s argument that…
Clarifying and focusing the discussion Contrary to what you might think, asking for something to be repeated can have a positive effect. It shows that you have been listening to the discussion and are interested. It also provides important feedback to other speakers on how effectively they are communicating their ideas. Sometimes you might not understand what a speaker means. There are times when you need to break in while someone else is speaking in order to make an important point. It is not rude to do that if you use suitable language and techniques.

Clarifying and Focusing the Discussion - Useful Expressions
Expressing confusion - asking for clarification
  • That’s not exactly what I was trying to ask. What I was getting at was…
  • Let me put to you another situation - suppose…
  • Perhaps I didn’t really make my question clear. In fact what I asked was…
  • I understand that, but what I really want to know is…
  • Yes, that’s true but what about…
  • Well, may have a good point there, but...
  • I don’t quite follow what you were saying about...
  • I wonder if I could ask you to clarify the meaning of…
  • If I understood you correctly, you’re saying that…
  • I’m sorry, what is the meaning of…
  • Could you explain your idea further…
Asking for something to be repeated
  • I didn't understand that last point...
  • I'm not clear. Would you mind repeating it?
  • Sorry, I didn't catch that clearly. Did you say...
  • Do you mean that...
  • Please say it again
  • Would you mind repeating it again, I’m afraid I couldn’t hear you.
Indicating speculation or guessing
  • I rather feel that…, I rather suspect that…, I assume that…, I take it that
  • As I understand it, you’re saying…
  • Don’t you think that…?
  • Could we say then, that…?
  • It seems to me that you’re suggesting…
  • Presumably…
  • It's difficult to be sure, but there may have been...
Signaling an intention to say something
  • Excuse me, I've got a question I'd like to ask…
  • I wonder if anyone could tell me…
  • I'd like to comment on that…
  • Can I comment at this point?
  • We haven't really considered… /I believe we need to consider…
  • One thing I'd like to mention…
  • I'd like to add something to what (name) said…
  • Can I come back to what (name) said…
  • Excuse me, (name) – I'm sorry to interrupt you, but…
  • Can I cut in here…
  • Can I stop you there for a moment…
  • If I could come in here…
  • Can I make a comment on…
  • I agree with your point, but do others think?
Arguing a Point: How to disagree effectively If you want to interrupt someone to add your opinion; disagree with something that someone has said; or seek clarification on a point someone has made, you should first indicate that you have something to say by making eye contact with the speaker or make a suitable comment to indicate your intention (see interrupting strategies above).

Disagreeing with Another Speaker - Useful Expressions
Acknowledge another’s point
  • I can see your point, however...
  • That's a good point, but...
  • I see what you're getting at, but...
  • I think (name) made an interesting point…
  • I agree with you, but I have reservations as to whether…
  • Well I can’t completely agree with you…
Disagreeing with a previous speaker
  • (name) said that _____. I do not fully agree because…
  • (name) said that _____. However, in my opinion…
  • I can't fully agree with what (name) said about ___. In my view…
Explain why you disagree
  • That may not always be the case because...
  • That's not necessarily always correct because...
  • This idea may not be supported by statistics/evidence...
  • I thought the author meant that...
  • I’m afraid I disagree with your point about…
Offer your opinion complete with reason and support
  • From what I've read...
  • The statistics seem to indicate that...
  • I think what (author's name) may be suggesting is...
  • Other studies by (author's name) show that...
  • I would just like to add a point here.
Varying degree of agreement and disagreement In conversation you may strongly agree, partially agree or simply agree with the ideas another person is saying. On the other hand, you may simply disagree or strongly disagree with other people’s ideas. Below are some example phrases of differing degree that you may use in different situations.

Agreeing - Useful Expressions
Agreeing strongly
  • Absolutely!
  • I cannot agree with you more.
  • Can’t argue with that.
  • That’s exactly my view.
  • Couldn’t have sad it better.
  • I think you’re right, since…
  • I feel the same.
  • That’s a good idea.
  • You’re right, as…
  • I’m with you on that.
  • Well, perhaps you’re right.
  • Yes, in a way.
  • That’s worth thinking about.
  • I guess you could be right.
  • Yes, I agree up to a point.

Disagreeing - Useful Expressions
Disagreeing politely
  • Sorry, I think…
  • I’m afraid you may be wrong here.
  • I’m sorry, I don’t agree with you.
  • We’ll, I don’t know.
  • It may be so, but…
Disagreeing strongly
  • I’m afraid I disagree with you.
  • I really can’t agree.
  • I disagree completely

In heated discussions, it may be wiser to not directly challenge or disagree with another person’s ideas. This may ease the tension of the discussion. Below are some examples of phrases for indirect disagreement which may come in handy.

Indirect disagreement - Useful Expressions
Indirect disagreement
  • I think we should look at the issue more carefully…
  • Is that really necessary?
  • Perhaps we could consider an alternative solution.
Dealing with difficult questions You might be asked a question that you don't know how to respond to. Sometimes it is fine to say 'I don't know'; other times such a response seems to be an admission of ignorance.

Dealing with Difficult Questions - Useful Expressions
Avoiding an answer
  • Can we come back to that later? I’d like to deal with… now.
  • I think we have said enough on that question. I’d like to move onto…
  • It seems to me that you’re suggesting…
  • Would you mind if I dealt with that question later?
  • While… is important it’s too complex to deal with here…
  • I think we should focus on x not y.
  • We don’t have enough evidence to say…
  • That’s not something I’ve had time to deal with.
  • Would anybody else like to comment on this?
  • In this discussion we limited ourselves to…
Acknowledging lack of familiarity
  • I am not familiar with that particular case, but…
  • I am not aware of that specific example, but…
  • You’re quite right. I hadn’t thought about that aspect.
  • It’s an interesting question; however, it’s not something I’ve looked into.
Changing the context
  • I don't know how this is done in China but in Hong Kong...
  • I don't have first-hand experience, but the impression I got from reading the textbook was that…"
  • I do not have the experience but in a slightly different situation I would have...
  • I am not familiar with the situation in Tibet, but in Hong Kong this is a very serious issue.
Fluency and communication Some students worry about making grammatical errors in their speech; they don't want to express their ideas unless they are confident that they can do so without making mistakes. Remember, the more interesting the content of what you have to say, the less people will care about the way you say it.

The information of this part is adapted from the following sources:
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Exercise 1 Exercise 2 Exercise 3 Exercise 4 Rating Form
Exercise 1) Language Functions Drag the spoken phrase to its correct language function. prompt

Instructions: Match the items in the boxes on the left with the items on the right:
  1. Click in the table cell containing the item you want to move.
  2. Click in the table cell where you want the item to go. The words will swap position.
  3. If an item is in the right position, it will have a green background and a tick.
  4. When all the table cells are green and have ticks, you have finished.

       Score: /


Exercise 2) Language functions In the exercise below select the language function of each phrase
  1. How does it sound to you?
    1. initiating discussion
    2. asking for repetition
    3. inviting peers to speak
    4. correcting members mistakes
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  2. Wouldn’t it be sensible for us to…?
    1. asking for details
    2. giving suggestions
    3. stop repetition
    4. inviting feedback
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  3. I feel certain that…
    1. clarifying yourself
    2. emphasizing a point
    3. summing up
    4. challenging others
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  4. I agree with you, but…
    1. agreeing
    2. half-agreeing
    3. agreeing strongly
    4. disagreeing
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  5. Well, actually/as a matter of fact, …
    1. correcting peers mistakes
    2. inviting feedback
    3. giving suggestions
    4. disagreeing
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  6. Can you elaborate your idea further?
    1. avoid awkward silence
    2. prevent digression
    3. asking of clarification
    4. interrupt
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  7. What I mean is…
    1. summing up
    2. clarifying
    3. interrupting peers
    4. making generalisations
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  8. In other words, …
    1. rephrase ideas
    2. summing up
    3. giving an idea
    4. return to point after interruption
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  9. Our discussion is going off track, let’s return to…
    1. move onto next topic
    2. prevent digression
    3. defend against interruption
    4. inviting feedback
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  10. I think we’ve covered that point already.
    1. prevent digression
    2. adding a point to what others said
    3. indirect disagreement
    4. cease repetition of topic
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  11. As I was saying…
    1. return to point after interruption
    2. refrain from arguing
    3. emphasizing a point
    4. defend against interruption
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  12. In most cases, ….
    1. take up a point
    2. respond to topic initiation
    3. disagreeing
    4. make generalisations
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  13. That’s worth thinking about.
    1. agreeing
    2. half agreeing
    3. agreeing strongly
    4. emphasizing point
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  14. Why do you say that?
    1. interrupting
    2. take up a point
    3. asking for details
    4. inviting feedback
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
  15. I didn’t mean it that way.
    1. hesitating
    2. return to point after interruption
    3. correcting your own mistake
    4. responding to challenge
    (Correct answers are bolded.)
Exercise 3) Body language during classroom discussion and presentations Match the gesture with its language function

Exercise 4) Body Language Match the body language with its function

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