The discussion sparks technique ensures workshop participants will be able to participate in a lively discussion during the session by having engaged with a relevant resource before/during the session. The aim of the discussion is for the group to think collectively about an issue, in new ways. The use of the resource serves as a ‘spark’ for an active discussion, because it will equip all participants with enough information to respond to, and because the thought-provoking nature of the content should help participants form and share new ideas.


Before/during the exercise, the workshop facilitator shares a brief resource (video/audio podcast/reading) with the participants, which provides them with interesting, new, or unexpected information on a relevant topic. After reading/watching/listening to the resource, they will discuss – either as a large group, or in smaller break-out groups – their responses to its content. The discussion is facilitated around 2-3 questions that have been crafted to help them think critically about the topic, and which should ‘spark’ a lively, peer discussion during the session. The exercise is broadly based on a flipped learning approach.




Minimum 4 participants

There is no maximum number for this activity, but it is recommended that, for groups of 8 or more, participants are allocated to smaller groups during the in-workshop discussion.


Minimum 15 minutes | F2F & Online

If the resource will be shared during, and not before the workshop, the time to read/watch/listen to it should be added to the above time allocation.


  • A resource that can be shared before/during the workshop. Electronic resources can be shared via a hyperlink, but for in-person workshops, readings can be printed out.
  • If a video will be displayed during the workshop for the group to watch together, a large screen or projector and speakers will be required.


  • The facilitator should choose a brief resource before the session. For guidelines on how to choose the resource, see ‘practical tips’.
  • If the resource is to be sent to participants before the workshop (which should save time during shorter worker sessions), they should do so at least 3-5 days in advance. A day before the workshop, another reminder should be sent to participants. In the message accompanying a link to the resource (e.g. a hyperlink to a brief, online video/audio podcast or reading) it is essential to stress that the content will be used as a basis for an in-workshop discussion, and that it is expected that participants would have read/watched/listened to it before the session. (Optionally, the guiding questions for the discussion can be shared along with the pre-workshop resource).
  • If the resource will only be shared during the workshop, the facilitator should prepare it (e.g., print handouts of a reading, or check that a video/podcast can be played in the workshop venue, for everyone to watch/listen to, together).
  • The guiding questions for the discussion should be prepared. (See: Practical tips).
  • If the participants will be discussing the questions in smaller groups, the facilitator should decide how they will be divided and ensure there are tables/spaces for them to convene. Online version: Virtual break-out rooms can be set up beforehand (unless participants will be automatically and randomly allocated).
  • The facilitator should, in their own planning, take note of how much time they will dedicate to each implementation step.

Step 1

During the workshop, the session starts by introducing the exercise, and its objective. The facilitator should stress that the purpose will be discussion-related, e.g., to promote critical thinking about the topic, or for the participants to become more aware of different viewpoints of the topic.  

Step 2

If the resource was shared before the workshop, the facilitator refers to the resource. They can ask a volunteer to briefly summarise its content, or share their own, short summary.

If the resource was not shared before the session, the facilitator should share it now. If it is a reading, the facilitator hands out hard copies and allows a few minutes for everyone to read it.  If it is a video/podcast, this can be watched or listened to together, as a group.

Online version: Post the link to the resource in the chat, or if it is a video, share the facilitator’s screen to play the video.

Step 3

The facilitator announces that, for the next (e.g.) 10-15 minutes, the group will share their thoughts around the resource, by responding to the 2-3 guiding questions. (For more tips on how to facilitate discussions, see the ‘background/sources’ section, below).

If they are to divide into smaller groups, they should be instructed to refer to the guiding questions (which should be displayed where they can see it) to facilitate their discussion.

Step 4

The facilitator brings the discussion to a close after a specific amount of time. If it was a large-group discussion, the facilitator can share a short summary of key points that were raised, or if the participants had small-group discussions, they could nominate a group member to report back to the larger groups.

The exercise is concluded by reminding the participants how the exercise/topic relates to the workshop objectives, and how thinking about such issues in different ways can benefit their own developing practice/enhance their understanding of the workshop theme.

  • The resource should be brief enough for participants to read/watch/listen to in no more than 15 minutes, before/during the session.
  • The resource should be relevant to the participants’ context, as well as to the workshop’s broader theme and/or outcomes.
  • The resource content should be interesting/surprising enough to ‘spark’ lively discussions. For example: A Ted Talk video that provides a humorous or thought-provoking presentation of an issue, an audio podcast featuring specific/diverse viewpoints on a topic, a topical opinion piece/column, or a recent news article that is relevant to the workshop themes.
  • The guiding questions should not illicit yes/no responses, but rather help participants think critically about the issue. (Examples include: “What resonated / did not resonate with you, and why?”; “What would you want to ask the speaker/author, if they were here, today?” or “What would be the consequences of this issue in your context?”)
  • If smaller/break-out groups will be used, it is essential to share the guiding questions in a format where the group can see it, to stress the time limit, to remind participants that everyone should have a turn to make a contribution, and to recommend that at least one person takes notes so that they can report back to the group.

The discussion sparks method was developed by the database contributors, and draws on their own practical experience of workshop facilitation, as well as the following resources retrived on 11 June 2022:

  • If the discussion portion will involve smaller/break-out groups, each group can also submit their discussion notes via an online poll or online shared document, to save time during the final, concluding, phase of the exercise.
  • Discussion sparks can be altered as a reflection activity, which involves the participants writing down/capturing their responses to the guiding questions individually (either before/during the workshop), and only volunteers sharing their thoughts around the key questions with the group.

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