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UCSB Reads 2022: Book Discussion Tips

Discussion Tips from UCSB Instructors

Tips provided by Dr. Abigail Droge and Dr. Chris Dean:

Ground the conversation in the text.

Thinking about the narrative “arc” of a discussion can be helpful -- you can start the session by discussing a specific passage and then build out to larger-scale questions about how our current social moment impacts the way we read this text, how reading this text might impact our current social moment, etc. Or you can start with students’ own experiences (which they are already experts in) and move into the text, etc, etc -- there are many different progressions that work well. Having an idea in advance of the discussion’s major “plot points” can be helpful in providing a loose framework, which can then still be flexible enough to respond to participants’ interests. 

Other ideas:

Ask everyone to come to the meeting with a passage from the text. Ask 'Why did you choose this passage?"

  • Say, “I have a passage that I want you to reflect on. “ Post in the chat, and have the participants take 3-5 minutes to reflect in writing. 
  • Ask how and why questions
  • Or, ask yes and no questions followed by a “why” question
  • Benefit of this kind of discussion is to understand perspective, so ask:
    • Why did the story end this way?
  • Why did the character make that/this decision?

Tips provided by Dr. Michelle Grue:

  • Respect differences of culture, orientation, values, opinion and style.
  • Do not criticize colleagues because of where they are in their idea development or their admission of prejudices, biases, and prior assumptions.
  • Openly and honestly share aspects of your own experiences.
  • Welcome disagreement and critique, as they provide opportunities to learn.
  • Seek to understand first before trying to be understood.
  • Encourage engagement; recognize that everyone has something to contribute.
  • Be specific, give examples, and ask questions.
  • Speak for yourself. Let others speak for themselves. Relatedly, as my late grandma would say, “the devil don’t need no advocate”; if you have a point to make, make it as yourself, not someone’s advocate. 
  • If something did not make sense, ask about it, as others may have the same question.
  • Do not share discussions with others who are not in our community.
  • Add to what has already been said.

E-Book to Facilitate Talking about Difficult Topics

The Circle Way

The Circle Way is a lightly formalized, lightly facilitated social structure that allows people to use circle process in a wide range of settings. 

COMPONENTS OF CIRCLE What transforms a meeting into a circle is the willingness of people to shift from informal socializing or opinionated discussion into a receptive attitude of thoughtful speaking and deep listening that embodies the practices and structures outlined here.

How To Have A Successful Book Discussion (created for the UCSB Reads 2021 program)

Guidelines and Ground Rules For Book Discussions

Establishing discussion ground rules is a good way to ensure the conversation is productive, thoughtful, and inclusive.  Here are some examples of ground rules you can ask your group to agree to in advance.


Guidelines for dialogue / community expectations from University of Michigan's Center for Research on Learning and Teaching

Confidentiality.  We want to create an atmosphere for open, honest exchange

  • Our primary commitment is to learn from each other.  We will listen to each other and not talk at each other.
  • We acknowledge differences amongst us in backgrounds, skills, interests, and values.  We realize that it is these very differences that will increase our awareness and understanding through this process.
  • We will not demean, devalue, or “put down” people for their experiences, lack of experiences, or difference in interpretation of those experiences.
  • We will trust that people are doing the best they can. We will try not to ‘freeze people in time’ but leave space for everyone to learn and change through our interactions with one another.
  •  Challenge the idea and not the person.  If we wish to challenge something that has been said, we will challenge the idea or the practice referred to, not the individual sharing this idea or practice.
  • Speak your discomfort.  If something is bothering you, please share this with the group.  Often our emotional reactions to this process offer the most valuable learning opportunities.
  • Step Up, Step Back. Be mindful of taking up much more space than others. On the same note, empower yourself to speak up when others are dominating the conversation.

Guidelines for Social Justice Education Contexts from Sensoy & Diangelo p. 8

  • Strive for intellectual humility. Be willing to grapple with challenging ideas.
  • Differentiate between opinion--which everyone has--and informed knowledge, which comes from sustained experience, study, and practice. Hold your opinions lightly and with humility.
  • Let go of personal anecdotal evidence and look at broader group-level patterns.
  • Notice your own defensive reactions and attempt to use these reactions as entry points for gaining deeper self-knowledge, rather than as a rationale for closing off.

  • Recognize how your own social positionality (e.g., race, class, gender, sexuality, ability) informs your perspectives and reactions to your instructor and those whose work you study in the course.

  • Differentiate between safety and comfort. Accept discomfort as necessary for social justice growth.

  • Identify where your learning edge is and push it. For example, whenever you think, I already know this, ask yourself, How can I take this deeper? Or, How am I applying in practice what I already know?


    Modified from guidelines by McKensie Mack, Anti-Oppression Consultant 
    We agree to…

  • Struggle against intersecting prejudices and biases, including against racism, sexism, sizeism, transphobia, classism, and ableism.
  • Examine our (mis)conceptions of our own identities and the identities of others.
  • Work together toward harm reduction. We know that no space can be completely safe.
  • Speak from our own experience, rather than generalizing or attempting to speak for others.
  • Practice stepping up and speaking more if we are generally quiet, and stepping back and listening more if we are generally a talker.
  • Sit with the discomfort that comes with having conversations about race, gender, identity, the nonprofit industrial complex, etc… We agree to try our best to not shame ourselves for the vulnerability that these kinds of growth conversations require.
  • Value other peoples’ viewpoints, so long as those viewpoints do not challenge or conflict with a persons’ right to exist.
  • Acknowledge that it's okay to have feelings. It's okay to feel uncomfortable when we are discussing complex topics about accountability, equity, relationships, justice and care.

Content and Trigger Warnings

The following content and linked resources are intended primarily for instructors in classroom settings, however the resources may be helpful as a primer to understanding content warnings (sometimes called “content notices” or “trigger warnings”).

This guide explains what content and trigger warnings are, why they are important to include for inclusive classrooms, and how instructors can implement them. 

An Introduction to Content & Trigger Warnings Courtesy of University of Michigan's Inclusive Teaching website.


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