As an instructor, you will inevitably have some classes that are quieter and less willing to participate in class than others. It is important not to take this personally---a myriad of factors can effect a student's willingness to participate, from the time class is held (early morning classes are often quiet) to the subject matter (a Chemistry major may feel less talkative in an English class) to the student's personality (you may simply have a class of shy students). No matter the reason, there are some techniques you can try to help facilitate and encourage class discussion and participation.
- Wait 10 to 15 seconds after asking a question before clarifying or suggesting an answer. The awkward silence can be a powerful motivator for a student to contribute to the class.
- Arrange your class in a circle for discussion. The movement can help students feel more awake, as well as less intimidated about contributing their thoughts to the class.
- Break your class up into groups and ask them to have group discussions or complete group activities. Try following this with a class discussion about what your students talked about in their groups.
- Don't be afraid to call on individual students. If you're concerned about how students may react to this, consider calling on them at random. Put everyone's name in a bowl, and draw out a name when you want a question answered—this luck-of-the-draw style may encourage students to be more prepared to participate, because they don't know when they'll be called on.
- Try playing a game or adding some sort of interactive element to your lesson.
- Have a fishbowl discussion. Divide your students into two or three groups. Each group takes a turn sitting in the middle of the class and discussing a question while the other groups sit around the outside taking notes on what they hear (consider giving the listeners guidelines for taking notes). After each group has had a turn in the middle, have a class discussion guided by the notes your students took as listeners.
It may well be that your class will never be talkative, but hopefully some of these techniques will at least encourage an increase in class participation. In the end, all you can do is keep trying.
TA Testimony— One TA has tried multiple ways to get her class to talk. Although her class is still quiet, she has had some success encouraging discussion, and she's not about to give up now.
Check out this website for more ideas on encouraging class discussion and participation.