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Strategies for Increasing Class Participation

Class participation is critical to facilitating learning, however, it can be challenging when the same two or three students raise their hand or blurt out the answer before other students have had a chance. Consequently, students who need time to process their answer soon learn to "tune out." To increase class participation and promote discussion, consider one or more of the following strategies:

  • Provide opportunities for students to get to know each other early in the semester so that they feel more comfortable contributing to class discussions. This can be accomplished by using an icebreaker activity and learning students’ names as soon as possible. It’s easier to fade into the background and disengage when students think they are anonymous.
  • Give students time to write a response to a question before calling on someone.
  • Pose a question and ask how many students have an answer. Then call on someone who has not recently contributed.
  • Allow students time to discuss their answer with the person sitting next to them prior to asking someone from the class to answer the question.
  • Use a "call on the next speaker" format. In other words, the student who answers the question calls on the next speaker (Silberman, 1996). This strategy is particularly appropriate when students have read their assignment and/or completed the homework.
  • Arrange the room to facilitate discussions. A semicircle or u-shape allows students to see each other and promotes conversation. If you can’t rearrange the tables and chairs, move around the room, keeping in mind that wherever you are is the front of the room.
  • Allow students to respond to each other before jumping in with your feedback. In other words, don’t let a class discussion turn into a lecture.
  • Provide each student with two or three talking chips (or paper clips). Each time a student contributes to the discussion, they turn in a chip with the goal being that all students use up their chips. This strategy encourages the students who tend to monopolize discussions to save their chips for their most thoughtful comments. Typically, students receive three talking chips, but it might be less intimidating to start with two.
  • Use online communication (e.g. email or discussion forums) to promote or start discussions. This allows students time to develop a thoughtful response. Either the instructor or the students could print a copy of the emails or discussion and bring it to class to further facilitate the dialogue.
  • Draw out shy students and minimize monopolizers by asking questions such as:
    • "How do others feel about this statement?"
    • "Would anyone else care to comment on...?"
    • "I would like someone who hasn’t contributed yet to answer this question."
    • "I expect three or four students to provide a response to the following question."
  • Use nonverbal cues and be aware of your body language. When a student contributes to the discussion, particularly one who doesn’t contribute often, smile and nod. Maintain eye contact and never turn your back on the student talking. If you need to move, back up, trying to maintain some eye contact.

References

Silberman, M. Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject. Needham Heights: Bacon, 1996. Print.

Gross Davis, B. "Encouraging Student Participation in Discussion." Tools for Teaching. U. of California, 2002. Web. 10 Feb. 2010.

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