Classics & Archaeology

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Seminar Participation

Seminars are discussion-based classes, where students are expected to participate actively by having a view about the reading, articulating that view, and defending it in conversation.

There are three features that typically characterize seminars and other discussion-based classes: a heavy reading load, papers (as opposed to exams), and, of course, in-class discussions. Here are some strategies that you can try before, during, and after class to make discussion-based classes more manageable and fun. While some of you may already have developed strategies for effectively speaking up in class, asserting your ideas and opinions, and taking centre stage, this kind of discussion-based class will be unfamiliar to many students.

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How Do I Make Meaningful Contributions to Seminars?

The aim of class discussion is to learn from others and allow them to learn from you. There are lots of contributions that count, including questioning, listening, and responding.Here are some top tips for ways to make these contributions:

  • Prepare to contribute by carefully reviewing the topic for the week and doing the reading assigned with that topic squarely in mind. Think about why we are discussing this particular topic at this juncture in the module (so look back at your notes from last week and look ahead to what’s coming the week after). Use the lecture material to generate questions and comments in advance.
  • Explicitly relate or link your observations and comments to module objectives, central themes and main topics.
  • Ask a question that encourages someone to clarify or elaborate on a comment.
  • Make a comment to link two people’s contributions.
  • Explain that you found another person’s ideas interesting or useful, and describe why.
  • Build on what someone else has said. Be explicit about the way you are extending the other person’s thought.
  • Paraphrase a point someone has already made and build on it.
  • Summarize several people’s contributions, taking into account a recurring theme in the discussion. “It seems we have heard variations on two main points of view; on the one hand…”
  • Ask a question that relates to that week’s module topic–for example, “Can you explain how this example illustrates the concept (module topic) of …?”
  • Find a way to express appreciation for the insights you have gained from the discussion. Be specific about what it was that helped you understand something better.
  • Disagree with someone in a respectful and constructive way. You might reflect the comment back to the speaker to indicate that you have listened well. If possible, point out what is interesting or compelling in someone’s comment before explaining why and how you disagree.