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Encouraging Class Participation

Class participation is an important aspect of student learning. When students speak up in class, they learn to express their ideas in a way that others can understand. When they ask questions, they learn how to obtain information to enhance their own understanding of a topic.

Class participation also is a valuable learning tool for teachers. Through students' questions, you learn what they don't understand, and can adjust your reaching instruction accordingly.

Just as speaking in front of a group doesn't come easily to many adults, however, speaking up in class is a struggle for many students. That struggle might manifest itself in the classroom in a variety of ways -- not volunteering to answer questions, not asking for help, not speaking up in small-group activities, even not talking in class at all.

As a teacher, you will have greater success spurring a student to speak up if you can figure out why he/she is reluctant to participate. Whatever the reason for his reluctance, your role is not to force him/her to speak; doing so will more likely make him/her shut down than open up. Your role is to provide a supportive, encouraging climate that helps him/her feel more comfortable, more confident, and less fearful of speaking up.


Create a climate in which students are encouraged to ask questions. Make it clear to students that you want them to ask questions. Point out that their questions help you by indicating where you might not have been clear. Emphasize that there is no such thing as a dumb question, and make sure to not allow students to ridicule a classmate's questions.

Take the student's questions and comments seriously. The student's reluctance to ask a question or volunteer an answer might be due to a lack of confidence. Help him/her gain the courage to participate by showing respect for his/her contributions and giving thoughtful answers to his/her questions. Listen attentively while he/she is talking; do not interrupt him. Try to find something positive to say about his/her comments, such as "That's an interesting point. I never thought about it that way" or "That's a really creative idea."

Orchestrate his/her speaking experiences to ensure success. Consider the following strategies:

Ask questions you are confident he/she can answer.

Let him/her know before class that you will be calling on him/her for a specific question so he/she can prepare an answer.

If you arrange to call on him/her, do it early to lessen anxiety.

When he/she does respond, reinforce his/her comments with positive statements and an encouraging smile.

If you ask a question and he/she blanks out or says nothing, restate the question (perhaps in a yes or no format), or lead him/her toward the right answer by providing a clue. Or you might let him/her off the hook by giving the answer, while saying something like "That was a tough one," and then moving on.

Be patient when waiting for a response. The student might need more time than normal to organize his ideas and formulate a response. As a result, he/she might be slow about answering a question. If so, give him/her extra time by waiting for an answer a little longer than you usually do. If other students are clamoring to answer, ask for their patience as well.

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