Creative Discussion using Plain Pair Groups

Creative Discussion – a key to insight and change

William Plain
Emeritus Professor, Nagoya University of Foreign Studies

Plain Pair Group Teaching (Plain PGT)
- for universities and schools
Plain Pair Group Discussion (Plain PGD)
- for decision making and staff development
- for informal or community creative discussion

A flash of insight is the spark of cosmic intelligence.
Small group sharing of insight can change the pattern of human intelligence.

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Campus Creative Discussion



Over 3 years, I have organised small ‘academic’ discussion groups (without a teacher), initially for students in my classes, expanding to students from most departments as well as graduate students and exchange students, with a number of teachers from several departments encouraging enrolment. Where possible, each group has a mix of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Year students. 

The language for discussion so far is generally English, though other languages, including Japanese, have been chosen. Topics for discussion are decided by the students. As topics should be “important and interesting”, and each student prepares their ideas beforehand, the meetings are not just for ‘conversation’. Creative Discussion involves sharing and discovering new ideas and listening to others with respect rather than debating or defending one’s ideas.

Students are actively encouraged to form a second group with their friends, enabling a creative exchange of ideas between their two groups. Two or three times a semester I hold meetings for all students involved to facilitate group formation and give information on the principles underlying ‘creative discussion’.

As at least one member of each group has been a student in one of my classes, I have been able to maintain close supervision of attendances and give ongoing practical advice. A report based on student comments has been published on my web site: Active Education Report.
少なくともそれぞれのグループのうち1人は私の担当するクラスの履修生であるため、近くで出席を監視したり、実用的なアドバイスをすることができる。学生のコメントを基に作ったレポートは私のホームページで公表している:Active Education Report.

2006: as an extension of student-centred small group discussion in the classroom (Plain Pair Group Teaching), students meet in small groups with members of my other classes (once a week during lunch) to compare ideas presented in my classes or other topics of interest.
2006年:授業内での学生中心の少人数グループディスカッション(Plain Pair Group Teaching)の延長として、私の担当するほかの授業履修者と少人数のグループで(週1度ランチタイムに)会い、授業内で発表されたアイディアや、興味を引くトピックを比較する。

2007: extended to include volunteer students in classes of some 10-12 teachers with nearly 200 participants. Groups of 4-5 mixed 1/2/3/4 Year students meet once a week, using English.

2008: open to students from all departments, graduate school and exchange students and in languages other than English. Many students invite their friends to form a second discussion group, leading to creative exchange of information and an expanding network of discussion groups on campus.

What is Campus Creative Discussion

This is not simply casual conversation. Each student prepares and presents ‘an important idea’ and listens to those of others, followed by discussion. Ideas may be taken from their class topics, current events, concerns from student life, etc. Attentive listening is a key element, promoting creativity through a search for ‘insight’.


To develop communication skills by transforming passive knowledge into active fluency; develop a sense of academic purpose, autonomy and curiosity; increase knowledge and creativity.


Students develop valuable relationships with older/younger students, giving and receiving ongoing advice; develop independence and responsibility; learn to relate to a diverse group and overcome (language or social) timidity; become more conscious of the culture and society around them; become critically aware of world events and of sources of information.

Future value

By organising and participating in long-term research and discussion groups, students develop skills which form a valuable part of their ‘skills portfolio’ for job hunting and future employment; they develop a capacity for interactive discussion which they can carry into the future, organising discussion groups among friends or work colleagues; a capacity for self-education is established with life-long benefits.

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Recognition and remuneration


© William Plain  1990-2016 (print) 2005 - 2016 (website)