Facilitating discussions on the Festival Hub

Three helpful principles

Thank you for volunteering to join a ten-week online discussion between schools on the Topical Talk Festival Hub. We’re delighted you can take part and we hope you will enjoy providing feedback to young people to develop their arguments. Here are three helpful principles to remember:


1. Acknowledge, summarise, question!

A good strategy is to:

  • Acknowledge a contribution from a student – e.g. "That’s an interesting question" / "that’s got me thinking"
  • Summarise a point you want to push them further on, e.g. "you said… / I notice you stated that…"
  • Question them to help develop their thinking

2. Ask “contentless questions”

Help students to push past their initial opinions and reasons, and make them think more deeply, by asking “contentless questions.” The aim is to develop their thinking by asking skilful, non-leading questions, rather than for us to impose a view.

  • What do you mean by that? (clarification)
  • Can you say why? (justification)
  • Can you give an example? (exemplification)
  • Can you say more? (elicitation)
  • How important is that? (evaluation)
  • So, (anchoring)

We can use our judgement to choose when and how we ask them. You may think of other contentless questions too.


3. Challenge and clarify

News travels fast and our students don’t always hear the full story about something. You might spot a sweeping generalisation – e.g. "People moving to this country don't have any paperwork". It’s generally best to ask for the evidence. Their statement might be the result of hear ‘say, or a lack of understanding. A good rule of thumb is to state your own uncertainty about it before asking for evidence. e.g. "I’m not entirely sure about this – can you tell us where you found your evidence?"

It’s also fine to correct obvious misinformation, as it may lead to a chain of misinformed comments. It’s wise to correct it gently, with phrases like "It’s worth bearing in mind that…", "let’s remember that…" or "there seems to have a misunderstanding here, because… (and state the truth)" . You can then ask if their opinion would still be the same in light of your clarification / correction.


We are here to help! If you have any questions or problems, email [email protected]

Your impact

We are passionate about measuring our impact. You can see our most recent impact report here: www.economistfoundation.org/impact

With your support, Topical Talk students can make up to seven times more progress than their peers in essential skills. The time you spend reading and replying to comments helps students develop their ideas and confidence communicating about the news. Thank you for helping us to make a real difference to young people’s lives.