Academic Seminars

Seminars for academic English students. What is a seminar? Seminar procedures and seminar practice lessons.

What is a seminar?

Generally, it is a small discussion on a specific topic among a group of students. At university it can be a central part of the learning process from lecturers creating seminars around pre-reading texts or post-lecture discussions. Commonly, at university English language centres seminars have become a feature of testing English speaking  though fluency, conversational skills and ability to discuss complex subjects.

Pre-seminar procedures

students are often given pre-texts and pre-listenings before the seminar to prepare. Students are expected to read and listen to texts carefully by making detailed notes and come to the seminar fully prepared.

Seminar Process

a seminar...

consists of 6 people (one can be nominated the chair person

a set of questions

lasts for 25-30minutes

The last 5 minutes summarise key points

Students CAN use their texts and notes

The seminar

The group are called into a room and sit around a table.

The questions are given out and students have 3 minutes to read and prepare

The seminar begins with an opening statement - what you are here today to discuss?

The students then begin to discuss the first question.

Each student should make a contribution by referring to their notes  / texts.

The Seminar should flow with students adding to what was previously said.

Once everyone agrees this question has been addressed in full, then they move onto the next question.

Important:  not all the questions have to be answered but they should be discussed in order

Important: ometimes choosing a chair person can create problems and it's better if the students run it collectively.

Once the students begin to approach the 25 minutes they should bring it to an end by each one summarising a main point raised.

key points to a seminar

It should be a flowing conversation with everyone involved and contributing.

The teacher / Tutor should not intervene if it goes quiet but let the students manage the discussion. 

Students have to show confidence and demonstrate thorough awareness of texts.

Dominant students are penalised for not sharing and including others.

Grouping is important (careful consideration is needed on putting students in groups)

key debate phrases should be used  to should conversation skills -  agreeing, disagreeing, interrupting, etc...

The Theory

Why have seminars?

Seminars create opportunities to:

  • explore topics in more depth;
  • share ideas in a way that will advance your thinking;
  • learn from other people's experiences and background knowledge;
  • gain perspectives and points of view that you might not have      otherwise considered;
  • identify and sort out any misunderstandings.

Listed below are some of the skills - often called transferable skills - that you will be developing:

  • listening
  • negotiation
  • leadership
  • team work
  • oral communication
  • responsibility
  • sharing
  • knowledge
  • time management
  • developing an argument
  • colloboration
  • conflicting opinions
  • visual aids


More information on participating in seminars