Engaging in Online Classroom Discussion

Online classroom discussion is often a large part of online curriculum, and where a lot of the learning and connections happen. Stating your point clearly, and making sound arguments is a critical skill to develop, especially in the online environment.

In their book, They Say, I Say, Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein identify argumentation methods to use in the classroom that result in meaningful learning. They delve into various rhetorical strategies such as summarizing and quoting, planting naysayers, connecting the parts, metacommentary and more.

Below are three of the many tips the authors offer to engage in meaningful discussion:

Frame your comments as a response to something that has already been said.


  • I really liked Amy’s point about the two sides being closer than they seem. I would add that both seem rather moderate.
  • I take your point, Nathan, that _______. Still _______.
  • Though Sarah and Richard seem to be at odds about _____, they may not be that far apart.

Indicate explicitly that you are changing the subject.


  • So far we have been talking about the _____. But isn’t the real issue here the____?
  • I’d like to change the subject to one that hasn’t yet been addressed.

Establish why your claim matters.


  • Although ____ may seem trivial, it is in fact crucial in terms of today’s concern over____.
  • Ultimately, what is at stake here is____.
  • This discovery will have significant applications in ____ as well as in ____.
  • These findings have important consequences for the broader domain of ____.

By applying the approaches of They Say, I Say, you can easily make your classroom discussions more meaningful for yourself and your classmates.

Written by DeAnna Soth, Instructional Designer at ASU Online

Source: Graff, G., & Birkenstein, C. (2010). They say, I say. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

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