Keeping a student’s attention throughout the day can be incredibly challenging and it can be even more challenging to get to students to actively participate in various lesson plans. Especially when having group discussions, participation becomes essential to the success of the lesson. The following tips can help teachers keep students actively and thoughtfully engaged in class discussion.

  1. Give students questions to prepare ahead of time
    Learning isn’t necessarily about putting students on the spot. The more confident a student is in his or her answer, the more likely that student is to participate. By giving students the discussion question in advance, students have the opportunity to thoroughly consider their answer, so that when the question is asked in class, they will have had time to do the preparation needed to confidently answer the question.
  1. Let students discuss the question in small groups
    Many students are more comfortable in smaller groups than they are in large groups, so by giving them the opportunity to answer the question in a less intimidating setting, teachers are enabling the student to try out their answer on a smaller audience. This can serve as practice for the large group. Additionally, teachers can ask students to share another classmate’s answer, as this often eliminates the stress that comes with speaking one’s own idea out loud. It also encourages active listening in the small group.
  1. Use cold calling when necessary
    While cold calling can often be a source of anxiety for students, it is sometimes the only way to keep a conversation moving and to make sure that everyone is paying attention. Before cold calling, teachers might consider giving students time to write down the answer to a question in their own notebooks. That way, they can watch the students carefully and call on someone who they saw writing a response.
  1. Give incentives
    In a perfect world, students would all be engaged and proactive about their education, but since it isn’t a perfect world, it is sometimes necessary to offer short-term incentives that allow students to see the immediate results of their actions. Some examples of beneficial incentives are candy, extra credit, or a “free pass” the next time the student is cold called upon. This can be especially useful during particularly challenging lessons. In addition to offering individual extra credit to those who answer correctly, teachers can also offer classroom rewards if every student participates during a given lesson, such as no homework for the weekend or a project extension. 
  1. Make class participation part of the overall grade
    Even when students seem ambivalent about learning, they are often quite worried about their overall grade. By making class participation a part of the overall grade, students recognize the importance and the purpose of participating. Additionally, teachers might consider having students grade themselves or one another on their participation, as this will often get them thinking about what participation looks like in a classroom setting. By having this grading happen several times throughout the year, students will be able to monitor their improvement.
  1. Have students prepare open discussion presentations
    Sometimes, it might help to give students time to prepare for their class participation. Rather than putting them on the spot, teachers can allow students the opportunity to develop presentations in advance, that way they do not have the added pressure of an impromptu response. Teachers might also consider having every student contribute one to two discussion questions that will then be used in class that day. Students will be responsible for having the answer to their own question, assuming no one else is able to answer it.

Teachers will see increased student participation and help students stay focused by taking advantage of these six suggestions. In addition, focused students will learn new concepts faster, which helps both teachers and students move forward in educational goals.