Let's talk about it

Facilitating great discussions are one of the primary skills of a youth leader. So how do you fare? John Allan suggests ways to improve.

I remember when the ‘Youth Fellowship’ was anything but. Kids sat in rows, sang a few Singspiration choruses, then listened to a speaker for half an hour. Then notices. Then more singing. And that was it; all the content came from the front; sharing didn’t happen; ‘fellowship’ it wasn’t.

Facilitating great discussions are one of the primary skills of a youth leader. So how do you fare? John Allan suggests ways to improve.

I remember when the ‘Youth Fellowship’ was anything but. Kids sat in rows, sang a few Singspiration choruses, then listened to a speaker for half an hour. Then notices. Then more singing. And that was it; all the content came from the front; sharing didn’t happen; ‘fellowship’ it wasn’t.

Mind you, that was back in my own teenage years, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and pterodactylburgers were on the menu at every self-respecting youth barbecue. How things have changed. Most learning these days is interactive, and if there’s any skill which is vital to a youth leader, it’s the skill of controlling and directing discussions.

But are you any good as a discussion leader? Learn from the Internet to raise your game. The BBC’s ‘Group discussion skills’ will get you started. Leading Today suggests seven key things to learn, including ‘Know how to deal with errors in statements of fact’ and ‘Know how and when to summarize’. ‘Small group skills’ claims there are 22 different simultaneous activities involved in leading a group (‘task’, ‘maintenance’ and ‘personal’) which is a terrifying thought but very enlightening.

The way you use your voice is extremely important, and ExforSys wants to help you here. Techniques you can apply include ‘discussion cubes’ and ‘active listening’; About.com tells you how. (It’s written for secondary teachers, but why not eavesdrop?)

And finally, once you’re doing it brilliantly yourself, you’ll want to teach your kids to lead well themselves. eHow shows teenagers how to lead a discussion, and White Stag’s detailed stuff (designed for Scout leaders, actually) makes a marvellous training outline.

Learn all this, and you’ll lead some brilliant group sessions. Ignore it – and your discussions will be about as flavourful as a pterodactylburger.