Pyramid Discussion


From time to time I like to share simple activity ideas and techniques I use in the classroom in order to help people who might not have heard of them and to get feedback on different ways to do them. This is one my favorite ways to do discussion in a large class.

It works well for:

  • sensitive or complicated topics where you want students to have a chance to talk in smaller groups before talking in front of the whole class. I
  • activities where students have to rank things or pick the five best things out of a list or settle on an opinion
  • practicing the language and skills of opinion, persuasion and compromise


It’s always good to have groups pre-determined so you can separate students by language, background, gender, personality, activeness, shyness, ability.

Ultimately the class will be divided into pairs, then those pairs will form groups of 4, those groups of 4 will form groups of 8, and then 16, until the class is whole. So you should plan the whole thing out and work out any odd numbers and so on. I make a little chart personally.

The Method

  1. Put your task or questions on the board. Make sure students have all the language and resources that they need.
    For example, a list of ten items on the board that can help you survive on a desert island. Go over the vocab and the language of evaluating and the language of survival/basic needs.
  2. Put students into pairs and tell them to discuss the question/come to a conclusionFor example, as a pair the students must agree on the 3 most necessary for survival on a desert island.
  3. Once students have agreed in their pairs, put the pairs together into groups of four. If everyone finishes at the same time, you can go over some common errors and questions before moving on. If they finish at different times, you can just match them up as they finish. In their groups of four, they should first report their conclusions and why and second come to an agreement as a group of four.

    For example, pair #1 chose the shovel, the matches and the radio. Pair #2 chose the map, the glasses and the bug spray. Now as a group of four, they must persuade the whole group and come up with only three items.

  4. Once the groups of four have come to a conclusion, you can put them into groups of eight. They repeat the same procedure: report their conclusion and then agree as a larger group.
    At this stage, they have discussed this matter 2 times already. The shy students should be comfortable talking, the more active will be repeating themselves and producing more accurate language, and hopefully there will be some prompting of each other–Ali had a good idea, tell them what you said to me.
  5. Keep merging two groups until you get the whole class. You could then do a classroom debate or go over answers, or have a few people discuss their conclusions and why.

Besides “choosing” activities, students can have a series of statements to agree or disagree with. Or they can be actually agreeing on how to manage an activity such as a group project. They could even be discussing the meaning of a proverb or reading or saying.

This is an old activity, one I think I learned from the back of the Straightforward textbooks. Other variations from my dear readers?

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