Lesson 8 Encouraging Classroom Participation
How to Encourage Class Participation
One of the hallmarks of a great learning environment is active engagement by students or other participants.However, it is not always easy to teach a class that may be shy. Some students may even be reluctant to say something for fear of getting it wrong.As a teacher or leader of a group, it’s important to get your students, colleagues, or others to participate. It not only invites others to join in the discussion, but can help participants—and you—learn a lot. You can encourage classroom participation by fostering a comfortable environment and requiring active engagement.
Requiring Active Participation
Ask if students have questions.In many cases, students may not feel comfortable talking or asking questions. They may be concerned about not appearing smart in front of you or classmates. By directly asking students if they have any questions or coming with prepared questions, you can stimulate more participation in class.
- Take breaks to ask short questions every few minutes. This can keep students engaged and ensure they understand the material. For example, you could ask: “Does anyone have any questions about why the invasion of Pearl Harbor was so important in American History?”
- Have a couple of questions prepared in advance in case students still seem reluctant to answer or participate. For example, if nobody is asking questions, you could say: “One questions I always get about the invasion of Pearl Harbor is whether President Roosevelt baited the Japanese to attack. Historians have used archival sources and oral histories to show that it wasn’t the case. What have you have heard about this story before?”
Set guidelines on participation.You may not always be able to get a class to participate. In these cases, it can be useful to have guidelines for how much you expect students to participate. Remind students as needed that you expect them to speak up during class, which can help relax the environment and may get even more students to participate. #*Outline your participation expectations in writing, especially with older students. For example, “I expect you to make at least two substantive comments per class,” or “All of you know I expect you to join in the discussion. Why am I the only one talking today?”
Incorporate participation into final grades.Students often take participation and other assignments more seriously if they factor into final grades. Depending on the age of your students and the subject and type of class you’re teaching, incorporate participation into your students’ final grades. This may encourage more participation.
- Make sure the participation grade fits the age and work. For example, you can easily make participation 30% of the final grade for a college-level seminar. However, for a high school class, it may only be 5-10%.
- Inform students that participation counts towards their final grades and ensure they know how much it is worth.
Cold-call on students.When all else fails, you can simply call on students to speak. This is called “cold-calling.” It can encourage participation by getting students to speak before they are singled out to talk by you.
- Consider calling on two students at once. They may be more comfortable and able to come up with an answer that if you only call on one.
Fostering a Comfortable Environment
Welcome everyone warmly.Kindness is something everyone likes. It can also help put people at ease, which in turn can encourage participation. Before each class take the time to welcome your students warmly. This shows you care and are ready to enjoy any ways they may participate.
- Greet your students individually by name if you can as well as an entire class. For example, “Hi Mara, it’s lovely to see you today. Are you having a good day so far?” or, “Hello hello class! It’s great to see everyone today and I’m really looking forward to this lessons. It’ll be a lot of fun.”
Tell a funny story.If you notice the energy is your class is waning or the students are not particularly interested in material you’re covering, tell a funny story related to the material. This can easily reinvigorate energy in a classroom.
- For example, you could say: “Hey guys, let me take a second here while we’re discussing the French Revolution to tell you a little bit more “juicy information” about it. How many of you know that it wasn’t Marie Antoinette who said, “Let them eat cake?”
Praise students.Everyone likes to know they have done something well. Praise helps people relax and makes them happy. A well-placed, “Good job!” can go far to encourage all of your students to participate in class, even if they are wrong.
- Use simple praise, which everyone can understand. For example, you can say: “That’s a great point, Elisabeth!”
- Remember that it often takes a lot of courage for an individual to speak up. Many people even get so nervous of making a mistake that they may not speak. You can help them—and others—feel comfortable with praise for speaking up. For example, “Not quite, Rebecca, but you’re on to the answer I’m looking for.”
- Take the opportunity to offer praise even after class, which may encourage more participation. For example, “You did a nice job in class today, Kate. I’d love to hear you speak up more often. Your comments always add a lot to our discussions.”
Navigating Potential Problems
Respect all points of view.A fundamental in any classroom is respect. Not every student will agree with you and/or their classmates. Part of any learning experience is understanding that there are many points of view and respecting them. Showing your students respect for their points of view can not only encourage everyone to participate, but also teaches them how to respect others.
- Remind students that your classroom is an open and safe space to express their opinions. Some students may be shy, but by showing that you will listen to every student’s point of view, you can help stimulate further participation. For example, you might say: “We’re about to talk about the US decision to invade Iraq in 2003. This is a very controversial topic and everyone in this classroom has their own views on the matter. Please be respectful of everyone’s comments and feelings.”
- Acknowledge students with different perspectives. For example, you might say: “That’s an interesting point of view, James. Based on what I know, I see it a little differently. Would anyone else like to add something to our comments or the discussion?”
Exercise discretion with problematic comments.Use caution when telling a student they are wrong about something. Keeping in mind that a student’s background and lack of experience may inform their position. It’s your job to acknowledge this and then expand their mind.
- Make sure you give a student time to speak without interruption. This can prevent you from making incorrect assumptions about what the student is saying.
- Deal with offensive or problematic comments quickly. For example, respond to a comment such as, “The Jews in Germany took all of the jobs in medicine, law, and the media” with, “Actually, Sam, the Jewish population of Germany in 1933 wasn’t very large. It was less than 1%. They couldn’t have taken all of the jobs by a long shot.”
Limit students who talk too much.Many classrooms have one or two students who also volunteer to speak or will simply offer comments without prompting. This can intimidate the students’ fellow classmates and keep them from speaking. Limiting how often students who tend to over-participate speak can encourage their classmates to speak up more.
- Ask students to raise their hands if they want to speak. This can ensure that everyone gets a chance to participate in class even if one or two students seemingly always have an answer. You could also give students 5-6 paperclips to use as “comments” per class.
- Tell a student who is talking too much to give others a chance. For example, “Carter, can you hold on a second please.
Video: A Simple Way to Increase Participation in Class Discussions
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