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Facilitating Student Interaction: The Dialogue Reading-Discussion Exercise

In this exercise I assign a philosophical dialogue to be read for a specific date. The assigned dialogue typically treats a controversial issue in ethics or philosophy of religion that the class has studied. In class, I ask for volunteers or assign particular students to read the parts of characters participating in the dialogue. I adopt the role of moderator-facilitator. The students—those reading parts and anyone with something to contribute (question, comment, objection, counterargument, etc.)—are given a flexible procedural framework to facilitate critical discussion as the subject matter warrants. As moderator, I interpret the development of our discussion, provide brief background elaboration as needed, and interject critical questions on the dialogue and on our class interaction based on it. In general, I promote a critical, civil, and constructive exchange among the students. In this context, I will often call upon specific students to respond to another student’s question or comment.

This classroom exercise enables the students to directly debate and explore philosophical issues in a structured manner. They gain a sense of the pros and cons of particular philosophical positions and of the general art of well-reasoned discussion, both from the textual dialogue and its structured extension in our class dialogue.