Students ought to be engaged in their courses. If they are not participating, teaching can become twice as difficult as it needs to be. Encouraging students to speak in class is often an instructor’s most difficult challenge. Students that take an active role in classroom discussion take interest in the course material, and speaking to an audience prepares students for their academic and professional lives as speakers, thinkers and listeners.
Figuring out why almost any student—extraverted, introverted, shy and so on—can be hesitant to speak up is crucial in deciding what to do about it. Often times, students will have a hard time responding to authority. Other times, students might just be naturally shy or introverted. Working with these students can be challenging, but there are several solutions to breaking the silence in a classroom setting.
Assigning discussion groups is a simple way to help students address smaller groups. This can help students sort out their thinking rather than address the whole class unprepared. Disbanding these small groups before engaging in the day’s discussion can help prepare every student to make a statement on the topic at hand.
Let Students Control the Agenda
When a day’s lesson can go several directions, it is helpful to give students some sense of control over the agenda by letting them vote on the topics they would most like to discuss. Ideally, the popular choice will lead to the most fruitful discussion.
Give Students a Chance to Prepare
Starting each class with a brief writing exercise about the topic is a way for students to get their thoughts down on paper to reference and revise. Students should be encouraged to familiarize themselves in this way, which at least ensures that students are able to think clearly about the topic if they are unwilling to jump into discussion.
On one note, these three strategies are simple enough to implement at the beginning of a semester. On another, these are easy enough to dismantle should a teacher find that they would rather adhere to their own methods. For the instructor who would like to see their students taking a more active role in the classroom, these methods might be worth the planning.
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Written by Samuel Sprague, a state and local public policy major at GCU.