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Improve Class Discussions

By Margie

A rather elusive goal of most teachers is to have their students participate in class discussions. Read more to find ways to get your students to contribute.

Get Students to Participate!

Teachers, please raise your hand if you have ever asked your students a question, hoping to launch a class discussion. However, instead of replies you received a few blank stares, several averted eyes, and possibly a response from the one child that always answers regardless of whether or not he knows the answer.

Although I can’t see them, I know there are virtual hands being raised all across the Internet right now. We all want our students to participate, that’s a given. How, though, do we increase class participation?

Write First, Answer Second

I frequently do this in my classroom. I ask a question and require students to write the answer. I walk around the room while they are writing their answers and see who is on the right track and who is not. I then call on someone I know has the correct answer. This way no one gets embarrassed and you slowly build confidence in your students. I love doing this for children that often don’t have the right answer. You can just see the pride in their eyes when they get something right. If you do this often enough, your students will become more comfortable speaking in class, which will lead to future class discussions.

Always Find Something Right with a Student's Answer

This does not mean you should accept an incorrect answer. Just phrase your response in a way that does not embarrass the student. You can say something such as, “I like the way you said “x,” but let’s delve a little deeper into your answer.” This boosts confidence and gets your students listening to each other.

Give Plenty of Time to Answer

Give kids time to think before you answer the question for them or move on. Silence can sometimes seem awkward, but it shouldn’t be. Everyone needs time to think, especially if you are about to speak in front of your peers and teacher.

Think, Pair, Share

If you want to increase class participation you must try this activity. It requires discussion. Ask a question, then tell your students to think about the answer. (You may even want them to write an answer so you know they are actively engaged.) After a couple of minutes, have then turn to the student sitting beside them and share their thoughts. Walk around the room so you can hear the discussions. This might be as far as you want to take it. Class participation does not always mean whole class discussions. You decide depending on the situation.

Small Group Discussion

You may want to have your students conduct small group discussions rather than whole class discussions. Even adults are sometimes intimidated sharing their thoughts with 25-30 other people. Small group class discussions often set the stage for much deeper conversation.

Good Manners

Stress and teach good manners. Do not allow students to interrupt or make fun of each other. If your students feel safe sharing, they are much more likely to participate.

Try any or all of these tips to increase class participation. Don’t expect emotional debates and thoughtful deliberations overnight, but with time, you should see your students begin to share and listen to each other more than ever before.