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6 Quick Tips To Increase Student Participation

By Jennifer Dobson

Few things are as frustrating for teachers as the awkward silence they hear moments after asking the class a question or when quiet students refuse to engage in a topic discussion. It's no wonder this is a common complaint of educators, because without class participation, teachers can't be convinced students really comprehend the material. Most of us do have a natural tendency to passively absorb knowledge in a group setting, rather than actively learn and ask questions. Yet when students are truly engaged in a teaching moment, it can be a powerful way for them to grasp the concepts that aren't always easy to understand straight from a textbook. Various learning styles can be more easily addressed by teachers when students are active and engaged in the classroom. So here are six quick tips to improve student participation in your class.

Be enthusiastic. Demonstrating your sincere excitement about the material you teach can be one of the easiest - and most powerful - ways to encourage your students to see the topic in a different light. Your enthusiasm is a natural motivator for students. Explain to students just what you think is "cool" about the field you teach, and you might just strike a common chord with students who had not understood before how to relate the topic to their own life and experiences. This technique alone will most likely increase the number of in-class questions and naturally spur participation. But what if you don't feel a natural enthusiasm about your subject? It's easy to become discouraged when students don't seem to be getting it. Start by doing a little homework yourself. Look for little-known historical facts or learn what strides are currently being made in your field. Remember why you became a history, science or kindergarten teacher in the first place. When your passion is rekindled, chances are your students will see the difference and respond accordingly.

Quiz often. Initially, giving your students frequent quizzes might seem counter-productive to morale and class participation. But these mini-exams - with answers that are mostly found within the day's class discussion -- will make students sit up and take notice during class. They might think it's "easy" points since all they have to do is actively listen to learn the answers to the quiz. But it will result in higher class participation. Just make sure your quizzes are announced at the beginning of class and that at least some of the questions' answers are covered during that day's lecture.

Survey says. Give students an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of - or confusion about - the material you covered. On a piece of paper, ask students to anonymously answer two or three brief questions, such as what they did not understand in today's lecture or which particular segment they enjoyed the most. Everyone likes to give their opinion, and in this case, students will actively listen and participate in class with anticipation about what they will comment on during the survey later.

Encourage preparation. The better prepared your class is, the more likely they will be to feel comfortable enough to participate. If they haven't read the material before you lecture on it, they likely won't be confident enough to discuss it. Offer an incentive to reading the material beforehand. You can operate on the honor system, allowing students to report what they have read and allowing them to earn a few extra points in the process. Chances are, if they do read the material early, they probably won't need those extra points. If you suspect someone isn't being honest, give the class a pop quiz over the day's reading assignment and tell them to expect pop quizzes at any time in the future.

Think outside the box. Although many students detest being called on to answer a question in class, up the ante by offering an incentive to "volunteer" their participation. Each day, students who wish to participate in the game will write their names on a card and place it in a box. Cards are drawn at intervals throughout the lecture, just after a question is asked. The student whose name is drawn can answer the question, or simply say they don't know the answer. A point is given to anyone who puts their name in the box, whether they give a right answer, or not. Not only will this encourage students to pay more attention in class so they will know the correct answer if called upon, it will also alert you to which students might not be grasping the material adequately and will give you the opportunity and reason to review that concept again.

Participation in small groups. This technique can work wonders with students who would otherwise not invest themselves in class participation. Once some key concepts are covered in lecture, break the class up in small groups, giving each set of students a word or theory to write a few paragraphs about, debate or demonstrate with a simple skit. When students must explain a concept in their own words, it clarifies their understanding of the material and reinforces what they just learned. This feedback will also give you cues as to which students have thoroughly grasped the concept and which ones need further instruction. You can have the group present their project to the entire classroom; or they can present their findings to you alone - a technique which can be an easier way for some of your quiet students to participate without getting too much out of their comfort zone.

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