Teaching a classroom full of diverse learners can make initiating class discussion difficult. A handful of students will readily speak up, ask and answer questions, and interact with the subject at hand. Others would rather sink into the floor before speaking up and the majority of the class is somewhere in between. There are many ways to encourage class discussion and increase student participation and learning.
Lay the groundwork
Teachers can encourage class participation by creating an environment that is conducive and welcoming to student input. Telling students that you want, need, and expect their participation and laying basic ground rules can increase the likelihood of students contributing to classroom discussions. Basic ground rules that tell students their input is valued may include things such as: only one person speaks at a time and no personal attacks. Seating arrangements also make a big difference in how welcome students feel. Just as business meetings are held in circular or horseshoe-shaped arrangements for better communication, classrooms can be arranged in similar fashion.
Small group activities
One of the easiest ways to instill student confidence in class discussions is to regularly use small group activities. Shyer students are more likely to speak up in small groups and assigning roles to each group member can help all students participate productively. Roles can include leader, secretary, devil’s advocate, and more, depending upon the student makeup and subject being explored.
Game show venues provide a fun, interactive way to get students motivated to join the discussion when they might not otherwise. Game show challenges can be managed in ways that give every student a chance at trying out a variety of roles.
No, you don’t want to encourage students to argue, but you can challenge them to “catch” you making a mistake. This is an excellent way for more reluctant speakers to see that no one is perfect and that it is acceptable and normal to err. It also provides an outlet for advanced students to stay challenged.
In today’s diverse classroom, open discussions are the perfect opportunity to teach tolerance and respect of others. Many students are afraid to join in class discussions for fear of looking foolish. If students know that disrespectful comments will not be tolerated and that there are “no stupid questions”, they will fell more comfortable speaking up. Also, the teacher’s responses to student questions and comments has a powerful impact on the likelihood of future questions.
What do they love?
Very often, students will not participate in classroom discussions because they are not interested in the subject. By monitoring student participation and knowing the interests of individual students, teachers can redirect discussions to include more reluctant speakers by demonstrating how the subject applies to something the students already care about. For example, a lecture on statistics may be boring everyone to death, while focusing on sports stats or baseball cards can transform a dull recitation into a lively and enriched discussion that includes many more students while still covering the material being taught.
Encouraging class discussion is an excellent way to make the material being taught more relevant and interesting to students. A supportive environment, a conducive physical arrangement, and a little creativity can go a long way to get everyone involved.