Participating in tutorials and discussions

Tutorials provide a rich learning opportunity for students at university. By developing strategies to participate more effectively, you will deepen your understanding of the course content and develop your communication skills.

Why should I participate in tutorials?

Tutorials ('tutes') are often less formal than lectures, take place in smaller groups and are highly interactive. They can save you study time and help you to prepare for assignments and exams as they provide an opportunity to:

  • Clarify and develop your understanding of the course content, through readings, discussions and other activities.
  • Ask questions about your assessment tasks.
  • Get to know your classmates and tutors.
  • Practise applying analytical thinking and problem-solving strategies.
  • Develop important group work, presentation and speaking skills.
  • Learn from hearing other perspectives.
  • Get feedback on your ideas.

How can I participate?

You will get more out of a tutorial if you:

  • Prepare well for the topic.
  • Actively participate in discussions.
  • Ask questions to clarify your understanding of the topic under discussion.
  • Offer your thoughts and ideas for others to consider.
  • Are constructive and encouraging in your contributions.
  • Listen respectfully to others.

A useful way to approach tutorials is to think about what you can do before, during and after.

Listen to Lisa’s tips on how to prepare for a tutorial.

What can I do before the tutorial?

The more preparation you do, the more valuable the tutorial will be for you.

Do pre-reading

There will usually be prescribed and/or recommended readings to be completed before the tutorial. Often it will seem that there is too much to read and it may not be possible to read everything on the reading list. A good method is to read all the prescribed reading and one or two recommended texts thoroughly and briefly review several (or all) of the others. Thorough reading is not simply making summaries but focusing on the topic so that you read with a purpose.

Connect reading with weekly topics and lectures

Usually, you will get an outline of the weekly tutorial topics at the start of the semester. Reflect on how the readings relate to the topic and the main points presented in the lecture (refer to your lecture notes). Think about similarities or differences between the texts and try to form your own opinions. Note down any questions and comments you have about the material or the lecture for discussion during the tutorial.

Even if you do not complete any of the preparation, don't miss the tutorial. You can still benefit from listening to others discussing the topic.

What can I do during the tutorial?

In many subjects, a percentage of your final grade is for ‘tutorial participation’. This mark reflects not only your attendance, but also how active you are in tutorials – whether you sit quietly and say nothing or whether you act as an interested, enthusiastic member of the group who asks questions, shares ideas, presents different perspectives, makes comments and raises issues.

Aim to participate at least once in every tutorial. The easiest way to participate is to add to the existing discussion; you also offer your opinion and even politely disagree with your classmates and tutors.

Tips and prompts to help you participate effectively

  • Language for entering a conversation

    Start Small:

    • Agree with someone - That's a great point!
    • Ask for more information - Can I ask...?
    • Ask a question - What do you mean by...?

    Move to :

    • Offer an observation - Yes, I agree and I'd like to add... / Could I add a point to that?
    • Give an example - A good example of that is... 
    • Disagree - Oh really? That's an interesting point, however...
  • Listening actively and using body language
    • Look at the person speaking: Listen attentively, take note of important points and use non-verbal signs such as nodding, to indicate you are following the discussion.
    • Look at everyone: Eye contact will make your classmates feel involved in the conversation.
    • Speak up: Make sure everyone can hear what you’re saying. Eye contact helps with this: you have to keep your head up when speaking so others can hear you.
    • Speak slowly: You are likely to speak faster when you are nervous, which can make you harder to understand.
  • Expressing an opinion

    In a tutorial you should try to use evidence from academic sources to support your opinion.

    Here’s a useful frame to follow:

    1. Opinion

    • I believe that …
    • In my opinion …
    • It seems to me that …

    2. Reason

    • This is because …
    • I say that because …
    • I think so because …

    3. Support

    • An example of this is …
    • This can be seen in …
    • < Author name > argues that … (spoken citation)
  • Disagreeing politely

    One of the joys of being a uni student is participating in academic conversations. Offering and listening to alternative points of view is a common feature of tutorials, but it’s important to do disagree in a respectful way. Here’s a suggested approach:

    1. Acknowledge

    • That’s a good point, but …
    • I see what you’re saying, however, …
    • Yes, I understand, but …

    2. Disagree

    • I think it’s more about …
    • I thought the author meant …
    • Rather than …. , I believe it might be more …

    3. Your opinion supported with evidence

    • < Author > suggests that …
    • Other studies by < author > show that …
    • Evidence shows that …
  • Responding to questions

    Give yourself thinking time​:

    • So, what you are asking is …​?
    • That’s a very good question …
    • Good point. Let me have a think about it.
    • Can I get back to you on that? 
    • I’m afraid I don’t have that information with me.
    • Well, as I mentioned earlier …

    You can be honest and admit that you don’t know:

    • I haven’t considered that before. I’ll have to think about it! 
  • Managing anxiety about public speaking

    Many people are nervous when they first talk in front of others.  Telling yourself that there are benefits to be gained from learning to speak up in tutorials will help you to get motivated.  When you graduate, you will probably have to speak at meetings and give presentations. Tutorials are a chance to develop these professional skills.

    Learn people’s names: Knowing the names of people in the tutorial can help you feel more comfortable about talking to the others, both inside and outside the tutorial.

    Say something: Try to say something in the first tutorial, even if you only ask a simple administrative question, such as, how to contact your tutor after the tutorial.

    Prepare questions or comments: Go to a tutorial with one or two comments or questions already prepared to contribute to the topic. As you become more confident you can be more spontaneous with your comments.

What can I do after the tutorial?

  • Review your notes and the readings.
  • Think about what you said or did not say.
  • Consolidate and summarise key discussion points (in your own words).
  • Do you have any unanswered questions?  Clarify with classmates before the next tutorial.
  • Identify what you need to work on for your next tutorial; this will help you maintain focus.

Final tip

Tutorials are a great space for you to deepen your knowledge and communication skills, and make new friends. If you’re new to uni, remember that it can take time to develop your confidence in this space. If you are already feeling confident, try to encourage others to become part of the conversation; you’ll also develop your knowledge by welcoming alternative viewpoints.

Two people looking over study materials

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