Now that many students are learning online - or are only physically in class for a few hours - getting their focus and having them share their work, answer questions and participate in class discussions is far more challenging.
We have put together a list of tips to help increase student participation virtually and in-person.
1. Understand Why Participation is Low
We believe the first step to solving a problem is to understand why it is occurring in the first place. The answer may be obvious i.e. they don’t feel any pressure to raise their hand in a video call or have low energy early in the morning. But it could also be that certain students feel self-conscious about sharing their ideas in front of a group or they may even have tech issues with their computers at home during video calls.
To get down to the bottom of the issue, talk to your students individually in one-on-one meetings. See what they have to say about their participation. You may see similar answers from a few students and can start to create a plan from there.
2. Call on Your Students Directly
An obvious tip but one we tend to forget about while in the thick of teaching a lesson. You can call on students directly to share if no one is volunteering. It is important to carry out step number one and talk to each student one on one so that you understand their situation. For example, if you know that they do not have a working camera on their home computer, do not ask them to share a visual project. If a certain student gets nervous talking in front of a group, find out what subjects they enjoy and call on them during those lessons.
3. Offer Praise When They Do Share
We will be talking about positive reinforcement quite a bit throughout this blog but one of the best and easiest ways to encourage your students to participate in class is to offer praise when they do share their work, answer a question, etc.
Experts suggest that kids can benefit from general, cheerful messages. Enthusiastic praise like saying “great job!”or a simple gesture (like a thumbs up) can engender good feelings. It may also motivate children to try and share again and again (Morris and Zentall 2012).
The great thing about giving positive praise is that it is effective both in-person and virtually.
4. Create a Participation Chart
Setting goals is an important skill that you want your students to build. Give your students a participation goal and use a chart to track their progress. Every time a student shares in class, you can add a sticker to the chart. You don’t necessarily have to give them a reward after they complete their chart, but if you are truly having difficulty with student participation, it may be a good idea to offer them a small reward.
5. Be Aware of Overparticipation
We all have had or currently have a few students who are ready to answer every question and offer their thoughts or opinions. These students are great to have in class as they can start generating conversation but they also can cause other students to feel as if they don’t need to participate. The participation chart may help a bit with this. Your student who is always ready to raise their hand may see the chart and decide that they should give other classmates a shot at speaking.
If the chart does not seem to have an impact on over participation, address your student one on one using positive and constructive language. You can tell them something along the lines of, “I really appreciate your participation in class and passion for learning. I know you understand the lesson but we need to allow other students to speak so I can ensure they also understand what we are learning.”
6. Choose Projects and Activities That Excite Your Students
A great way to encourage your students to participate in class is to choose projects and lesson plans that they can get excited about.
Discussion-based activities such as role-playing or conducting interviews can be great ways to encourage participation. You can also choose activities that require whole class, group and individual participation like creating and publishing a classbook to increase engagement. You can work as a class to choose the topic of the book, students will independently create their own classbook pages and then can work on editing and revising their pages in a group.
Not only will having an arsenal of exciting projects and lesson plans increase class participation, your students are also more likely to turn in their assignments. If your students are learning from home, click here to view our list of at-home projects for elementary students.
7. Ensure Everyone is Heard
A very important aspect of increasing student participation is making sure that when a student is speaking, everyone else is quiet. There are few things more frustrating than trying to share an opinion or thought and not being heard. This is especially critical when students who tend to be shy are sharing their work. Sharing with the whole class can be difficult for these students to begin with and having others talk over them could cause them not to participate in the future.
Set specific rules for when your students are sharing information or a project with the class. This is very easy to implement over most video call platforms as you can mute and unmute the other students. When you have an in-person class, you can have students create signs that say “Speaking” on one side and “Listening” on the other. When the listening side of the sign is up, that means that they should not talk. This is a great replacement for a talking stick or talking ball - you, of course, don’t want your students all touching the same item over and over in class for safety purposes.
8. Talk to Other Teachers
This year has brought us into uncharted territory and sometimes it helps to ask for support from other teachers in your school. They may have some creative ideas that you hadn’t thought about that they use to increase student participation. You can also ask your colleagues to sit in on one of your lessons and provide notes on what you can do to increase participation.
9. Utilize the Chat Function in Virtual Classrooms
If your class is virtual, a great way to get students to participate in discussions and check understanding is to use the chat function. Simply telling your students to drop their thoughts on a certain topic in the chat. You can then go through what was shared and use that to facilitate further discussion after the lesson is completed. Ask your students to elaborate on what they typed out.
10. Create an In-Person “Chat” Document
This one is a bit outside of the box but is fantastic for giving every student an opportunity to share their thoughts on a specific topic without the pressure of having to volunteer. Just like the chat function in virtual classrooms, you will have students write out their thoughts on what is being taught but instead of using a chat, you can have a shared Google doc. After you are done speaking, you can go through the doc and read their thoughts on the subject.
If you find that a few students are not dropping notes into the shared doc, we suggest talking to them one on one to see what the issue might be and work together to find a solution.
11. Try the Jigsaw Approach
If you are introducing brand new content to your students, break them up into groups and have each group become “experts” in one aspect of the new topic then teach the class. For example, if you are teaching about narrative writing, one group may focus on theme, another on tone and another on character development. This will get your students to feel comfortable with discussion in a smaller group rather than having to ask questions and talk in front of the whole class during the lesson.
12. Let Your Students Have a Say in How They Learn
Allowing your students to choose how they demonstrate their knowledge and providing a range of topics for them to explore can help increase participation in class. Take note of what types of activities have worked well in the past and adapt those for different lesson plans.
If your students enjoyed doing a writing prompt where they picked a person from history to write about and present, take that and give them writing prompts on other subjects like space and science or even math! To increase enthusiasm and participation, you can take writing assignments a step further and create a published classbook of their work. Click here to view our collection of sample book topics!
We all want to motivate students to participate in class and right now it seems more challenging than ever but with a little extra planning, it is possible to increase engagement and promote great discussion in class. We hope that the techniques above will help you increase participation in your class.
Studentreasures provides FREE classbook publishing kits. Creating a classbook is not only a fun activity that teaches students about the writing process, it can also help increase engagement and build their confidence as young writers.
Click here to learn more about how the process works and see how your students can become published authors!