Sparking Discussions

Students in most of my classes actively participate. But in one freshman class, students are engaged in labs, but they just stare at me during class discussions. I ask open-ended questions a lot and make an effort to get students involved. How can I get these students more involved? – R., Iowa

Who knows what’s inside the mind of a ninth grader? Ask the students to write brief, confidential notes to you about what is holding them back from participating. Based on the responses, you could try several strategies.

  • Reassure students that you value their thinking and responses and that no question or response is “stupid.” Teasing or mocking is not allowed.
  • When a student responds, make eye contact and listen (a few nods and “okays” may encourage them).
  • For a shrug and “I dunno,” nod politely and say that you’ll come back to the student (and then do so).
  • After any response, give a pensive “Hmmm” and ask another student what he/she thinks, even if the original response is correct. This continues the conversation and thinking.
  • Show some excitement for an original or interesting response.
  • Wait-time before calling on a student gives students a chance to think. This is especially important if you call on a student who has not raised a hand.
  • Try a think-pair-share for discussion questions.

It’s interesting how each class has its own dynamics and “personality,” as you’re experiencing. The challenge is finding effective strategies to unlock their participation. You have an interesting opportunity for action research.

More ideas:  The Big List of Class Discussion Strategies



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