Guidelines for Seminar Participation

At first many students find leading a seminar discussion intimidating. As you progress from Level 1 to Level 3 we hope you will find that it becomes easier, and even positively enjoyable. The purpose is to help you to find ways of processing information and introducing it to others articulately and engagingly. In most seminars, other students will be asked to raise questions in relation to your presentation. You will then either have to try and explain or defend it, or perhaps concede their point. This is essential training for any worthwhile discussion.

Often you will be preparing your presentation along with other students. In this case get together with your co-presenters, and allocate tasks. Decide who is going to read what, who is going to report on what, and what order you want to do it in.

If the seminar is issue-based, analyze the issue into a number of points, work out the relation between them, research what significant thinkers have said about them, and decide what is important to present to the class.

If the seminar is text-based, read your text carefully several times, asking questions like: what is it about, what are the main points it makes, how does it make them? Try to contextualize each text and its issues by answering questions like: to what situation does the text address itself, and for what purpose? Do this before you consult commentaries on the text. If you have problems, first discuss with your co-presenters. If you all draw a blank, see the module co-ordinator!

Seminars differ from module to module, and you will be given more detailed guidance by your tutors. An average seminar might involve drawing up an A4 sheet itemizing the main points for discussion as you see them. You should not read from the sheet, but speak to it, using the notes you have made from the reading. You may want to include one or two quotations (normally no more!), notably those that encapsulate your main points in a memorable or striking way. The principal aim is for the class to understand your argument and the basis for it. At the bottom of the sheet it is often helpful to frame one or two questions which have occurred to you in the course of your reading. This can provide the seminar with a starter for discussion.

Even the shyest presenter shows a marked improvement over three years, and for this nothing can replace the experience of presenting. No one will be penalised for being overcome by shyness, but module tutors will do their best to help students deal with this problem. It is essential to remember that the aim is not competition, but increased understanding of the issue.