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If you’re a teacher, you’ve likely experienced the following situation countless times. You ask the class a question, and they respond with … crickets. This lack of engagement conjures up the scene from the 1986 cult classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” when the economics instructor asks, “Class? Anyone? Anyone?”

Stimulating class participation can be like pulling teeth. But it doesn’t have to be. There are several reasons students don’t participate. Some don’t know the answer. Others have tuned out. Or, maybe they’re just not interested in learning what’s on the agenda for the day. This e-newsletter will discuss several teaching strategies that encourage participation and, in turn, increase learning.

  • Assess prior knowledge: Find out ahead of time how much your students know about a particular topic or lesson so you can tailor lessons to your class. Doing so creates a more engaging, learning-centered environment where there is neither repetition nor content that goes over the heads of your learners. This can be as simple as asking the question, “What do you know about the Great Depression?” and writing answers on the board. Or use online survey tools, such as SurveyMonkey® or Google® Forms. Encourage everyone to join in by offering small rewards for participation—a cell phone cleaning cloth or stylus makes a nice incentive.
  • Allow for anonymous Q&A: Sometimes, especially when a concept or topic is difficult to understand, students may benefit from asking questions anonymously. Consider using a question box or an app, like Poll Everywhere, that allows students to submit their inquiries—no questions asked. This helps you as an instructor identify areas that may require greater focus. It also provides the entire class with answers to questions they may not have asked otherwise.
  • Utilize peer-to-peer learning: Group activities not only increase participation, but they improve learning outcomes, too. Divide students into small groups and have them review and teach topics to each other with role-play or modeling activities. Add an element of fun and encourage engagement with best actor or best concept awards. Retro sunglasses, cell phone back straps or high-five pens make great prizes.
  • Take a breath: Promote active learning and keep lecturing to a minimum. Studies have shown attention spans wax and wane, but active learning techniques increase participation and cognition. Activities, videos, Q&A sessions and interactive reviews help break up your lesson into absorbable chunks that keep students focused and engaged. And a little tip to remember—you may get more thoughtful responses if you allow students a minute to gather their thoughts before they’re called upon to answer.

Participation in learning can go a long way toward engaging your students and helping them retain what they’ve learned. We hope one or all of these teaching strategies work for you and your classroom. Best of luck!

Haynes, Kim. “Top 12 Ways to Increase Student Participation.” TeachHUB. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 09 June 2015.

Young, Mary. “6 Ways to Help Increase Classroom Participation.” echo 360 active learning. N.p., 13 May 2015. Web. Retrieved 09 June 2015.

Briggs, Saga. “How Peer Teaching Improves Student Learning and 10 Ways To Encourage It.” InformED. N.p., 07 June 2013. Web. Retrieved 09 June 2015.

Bunce, D.M., and E.A. Flens. “Are You with Me? Measuring Student Attention in the Classroom.” The Teaching Center. Journal of Chemical Education, 23 May 2013. Web. Retrieved 15 June 2015.

“Student Participation/Active Learning.” University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 09 June 2015.

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