We all know students who would rather do anything than speak out in class—the ones who are shy, afraid to make a mistake, or are otherwise disengaged. But we also know that class participation is important for all students: It sharpens speaking and listening skills and helps build confidence. Every student’s contribution provides an opportunity for formative assessment as well.
How can you help your students feel safe and confident about speaking in class and even eager to join in? How can you help keep those who always participate from taking over the conversation and impeding the quiet ones’ opportunities? Try these tips to keep everyone engaged and participating at just the right level.
1. “I don’t know . . . but I will!”
Some teachers let students say, “Pass” when they are called on but don’t know the answer. This approach keeps a child from feeling uncomfortable but doesn’t engage the child in the learning or hold them accountable for the material. Indeed, it gives students permission to check out. Instead, tell your students that if they don’t know an answer, they may say, “I don’t know . . . but I will!” This builds a routine that involves coming back to the student to give them another opportunity to answer.
2. Three Cubes
When considering which students will work best together in small groups, it can be hard to find a balance that doesn’t pit the oversharers against the undersharers. To be sure everyone plays their part in small group conversations, give each child three objects, such as small cubes. Set a group norm that requires each student to add three significant ideas to the discussion. As they do, they place one of their three cubes into the center of the table. When a student’s cubes are gone, they must wait until others in their group have used all their cubes before contributing to the discussion again. Students will become more cognizant of their participation as they use each cube.
3. Marker Madness
Group projects are definitely a place in which quieter students find it easy to hide behind those who are more assertive. When doing project work, let students write on big chart paper as they brainstorm. Assign each child a specific marker color. As you wander around the room observing and listening, you will easily see—by the colors on the paper—who is engaging in the work and who is holding back. Gently remind the group that you want to see all their ideas brought to life by all of the colors on their chart paper.
4. Explain a Strategy
When solving math problems in pairs or small groups, it’s not unusual for one student to suggest a strategy and subsequently do most of the work to come up with the answer, even if it’s done in the spirit of sharing. Make it the responsibility of that student to ensure everyone else in the group understands the strategy well enough to explain it to the class. When it comes time to share strategies, be sure to call on someone besides the strategy’s originator.
5. Stir-the-Class Brainstorming
When a good brainstorming session is what you’re after, it’s important to hear everyone’s ideas. But it can be difficult to find a way to let each student share without taking too much time or losing half your students’ focus! Have each student write their idea at the top of a piece of lined paper. Moving around the classroom, students meet up with each other in pairs and share their ideas, adding the new idea to their own paper. Let students continue moving from person to person, creating a class brainstorm list. Try doing this to music—when the music stops, everyone heads back to their seats and looks through all the great ideas they collected from their peers. Students can keep the list and return to it when they need it.
Helping all students feel confident to share their thinking and giving them all air time to test out their ideas is vital to creating a classroom community in which everyone is engaged in the learning. Try these ideas out and see how they empower all your students to find their voice.
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