Bringing students together to discuss can be an effective way to offer support. Here are some pointers for making discussions as effective as possible.

Remember that discussions belong to the students. Your role is to help the discussion along, not to provide the answers.

Set a nonjudgmental tone. Remember that these conversations are not academic; they are about children's feelings. Rely on phrases like "I see," "Mmmmm," and "Anyone else?" to facilitate without judgment. Realize that if you make a positive comment to one child, others will want that reaction, too, and may gear their participation to get your approval.

Be prepared for unsettling contributions. A child may say something that requires special attention: "I hate summer vacation 'cause I have to be with my baby-sitter and she hits me." When that happens, say, "Ray, thank you for your comment. I'd like to talk about it when you and I have some time alone. But for right now does anyone else have something else to add?" Follow up privately at a more appropriate time.

Make sure everyone has a chance to speak. This means no one dominates the discussion and no one interrupts. Key phrases like these can help: "What can anyone add to that?" "What does anyone else think?"

Keep discussions non-threatening. For instance, you might begin by saying, "At the end of every year I like to have a discussion about school ending. Usually half the kids are looking forward to summer and half aren't. I'm wondering what all of you are thinking." With a beginning like that, you let children know that it is comfortable for them to feel either way.

Ask questions that set up hypothetical questions. For instance, ask: "What are some things that make the end of the year hard? What could make it fun? What are some things that kids look forward to? What are some good things about moving on in school? What are some of the things that make it tough?" Questions like these keep situations removed enough to make it easier for children to say what's on their mind. Give children the option of writing their responses and then choosing to share or not.