Make student participation more inclusive for your shy and anxious students by making them comfortable with classroom discussion.

Students in most classrooms can be divided into three groups: those who participate often, others who occasionally speak up, and the kids who never contribute to conversations due to anxiety and fear. When children don’t contribute to classroom discussions, they will lack many of the skills that kids should be cultivating throughout their educational careers. Through increasing student participation in the classroom, teachers are able to help kids increase their ability to collaborate and communicate, which are important 21st century skills.

Try these techniques to boost student participation in your classroom, especially among your most reluctant students.

1. Establish a Safe Discussion Space

student participationChildren will only participate if they feel comfortable speaking in their classroom environment. This level of comfort is subjective and varies by student; therefore, teachers must respect students’ feelings and not force them to speak up, but educators can also ensure that all kids are aware they can comment on lessons without judgement. Each morning, greet every student as he or she arrives and start a conversation with a simple question that reflects interest in that child’s life—inquiries like:
How are you?
Did yesterday’s hockey practice go well?
How is that art project coming along?
When do musical rehearsals start?”

Incorporating this simple start to the day creates comfort between student and teacher and lets students know that their teachers see them as a person, not just a grade.

2. Create Rules of Engagement

To help students feel comfortable contributing to classroom discussion, teachers should establish rules to keep student participation respectful. Think about guidelines for students to follow and create a poster-size list to post on a wall in the classroom and social-media pages. The list might include suggestions such as “Listen for understanding instead of just waiting for your turn to share,” “Put thought behind your words before you speak,” and “Your words complete the puzzle of our classroom discussion.” In addition to these suggestions, a list should include rules to cultivate a safe discussion space, such as “Don’t talk over each other,” “Respect the comments of classmates,” and “No side chatter during class discussions.”

Students will feel more comfortable participating once rules are clearly established, modeled, and obeyed.

3. Show Gratitude for Gab

student participationTo increase student participation among quiet students, always thank students for contributing to the discussion. Thank students for raising their hands and, when they contribute in a meaningful way, thank them for that contribution. Empty praise is ineffective, but genuine gratitude for students who choose to put themselves and their thoughts out there can go a long way in creating a better classroom environment while encouraging students to participate more often.

4. Serve as a Conversation Conduit

After observing kids during a few classes and identifying students who are averse to discussion, approach each quiet child individually and offer to help. Ask those students to think about the class discussion and share their thoughts with you through email or a social-media messenger (make sure parents approve of this correspondence). Once these students are comfortable with their own responses suggest they begin to share these ideas during classroom discussions.

5. Work Out Those Facebook Fingers

student participationEncourage student participation through starting discussions on your class social-media page. Some people feel more confident when having discussions online. The ability to think about responses in the comfort of their homes allows kids to reduce their anxiety. Before class ends at school, pose a question to students by writing it on the board and ask children to share their thoughts online. They should also prepare to expand upon their responses during the next class.

The most important key to success when trying to increase student participation among quiet students is to remember that they can’t be forced to engage. Placing additional pressure on students who are shy or anxious will only create a larger communication barrier for that student to overcome.

Ready to take your class discussions to the next level? Discover STEM Jobs’ “5 Discussion Techniques to Encourage Student Participation” and create more confident critical thinkers.