1 | Have a plan, and be ready to change it.
If great discussion and interest flow from your introduction question, do not force the group to move on to the next question just for the sake of the agenda. Go with your youth and dig deeper into the areas with which they connect.
2 | Give students permission to talk.
Emphasize that this is a safe place to share. Students don’t have to share their deepest things with the entire group, but encourage them to talk with someone with whom they feel safe.
3 | Allow time to answer.
Our tendency is to answer the questions we ask. Two seconds of silence can seem like an eternity. It will seem awkward at first, but it will allow people to think and answer when they are ready.
4 | Rephrase effectively.
If you wait several seconds and it seems no one understands the question, then you can rephrase it, but do so carefully. Keep the question open-ended.
If the question is, “After what you heard today, how do you feel?”
- Bad example: “Do you feel happy about what you heard?”
- Great example: “What do you think about what you heard today?”
5 | Redirect when necessary.
As the facilitator, you should pull the conversation back by gently jumping in (trying not to interrupt but waiting for a break) and reframing the conversation. Try to create a smooth transition.
6 | Listen.
Do not plan your next question or your next announcement while students are sharing. Let your students’ responses shape the movement of the discussion.
7 | Don’t force conclusions or answers.
There is a time to teach and a time to listen. Before you or your fellow leaders jump in with the right answer, let students grapple with hard questions on their own. Injecting your answers into the discussion will silence the productive conversation.
8 | Show respect.
Set boundaries for listening to one another. For some groups (especially junior high students), it is a good idea to have an object represent which person has the floor.
9 | Dig deeper.
Listen for underlying beliefs/opinions/feelings and help bring them out. Give permission for questions to be discussed. Help students go a bit deeper by asking, “What are some reasons for that?” or “Can you explain why?”
10 | Follow up with students.
After the discussion is over, don’t miss your opportunity to follow up with students about what they said. Ask a student if he still has questions. Invite further conversation. Tell a student that you appreciated what she said. Small group discussion can lead to incredible one-on-one conversations.
The Youth America Team