As a teacher for 15 years, I know how hard it can be to get your students to participate. They might be shy, self-conscious, lack confidence, or have zero interest in what you’re trying to teach them. They also might be distracted, worried, or even exhausted by things outside of school.
As educators, we all know that when students are engaged—when they ask questions, provide answers, and discuss ideas—they learn so much more than they do as passive observers.
So, how can you increase class participation? Here are a few ideas that have worked for me.
Acknowledge Effort versus Achievement
We all like to be recognized for a job well done, but acknowledging the kids who are really trying and pushing themselves out of their comfort zones is a great motivator. Every student can progress, no matter where they’re starting from, and celebrating that effort is important. Try tweeting about students who are putting forth the most effort, or send email blasts to their parents, or acknowledge their progress in class so their peers can applaud them.
Some schools provide big incentives for progress—gift cards, tablets, celebrations, swag—which are great motivators for students. But incentives don’t have to be stuff. You can motivate your students with an opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Some online platforms let you build a quiz around something your students are learning. They can play individually against each other or as a class and try to beat you for a prize. If no one is exempt from the group—and they work together—it helps build community and enthusiasm for participation.
Develop Group Challenges
Group work is a great way to build student confidence. Everyone can add value because everyone has different strengths. Grouping students and giving them a problem or assignment to tackle together builds collaboration. They must depend on each other. Everyone must do their part. It’s amazing to see some of the quietest kids participate when they know they’re in a safe space.
Regularly Conference with Students
Reluctant participants benefit greatly from teacher conferences. Early in the year, try to get to know them—not just academically so you can provide the support they need, but their interests as well. The more you know about them, the more you can incorporate examples into your instruction that might pique their interest and get them to participate.
Set Weekly Goals
Small goals can add up to big successes, but they must be attainable. Through conferences, you can help your students brainstorm and pinpoint what they need to work on. Goals work best if students create their own, like, “I’m going to raise my hand once a day” or “I’m going to volunteer to present our group findings.” When students are engaged in their own learning, they take ownership of it, and it builds their confidence.
That school–home partnership is so important to student success. If you communicate consistently and clearly with caregivers through newsletters, emails, or online platforms, you can keep them involved in their student’s growth. Try recording yourself doing instructional videos of what you’re teaching or take pictures of your anchor charts so families know what vocabulary you are using. Reinforcing what you’re doing in the classroom at home encourages student participation.
I was inspired to become an educator by my elementary school teachers. Their consistent push for me to be successful deepened my love of education. I hope you find these tips to be helpful in your classroom!