Promoting Discussion and Participation in the Classroom
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Promoting Discussion and Participation in the Classroom

Promoting Discussion and Participation in the Classroom

Participation and discussion in the classroom helps students become engaged with the lessons and provides them the opportunity to develop their own ideas on discussed topics. Many educators, masters degree holders, and experts believe that a student who is engaged and developing his own opinions and thoughts on the subject matter is more likely to learn and remember the material than a student who listens to a lecture. Here are several methods for motivating students to get involved in the classroom.

Learning Environment

One method, suggested by the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, for encouraging discussion among the entire classroom is to place students’ chairs and desks in either a circle or in the shape of a “u”. Students are more apt to communicate with each other when they are seated facing each other. Teachers should sit with the students during the discussion portion of the class. By sitting with the students, the teacher is encouraging students to talk amongst each other rather than raise their hands and speak directly to the teacher. This allows for a conversational flow, rather than the typical question and answer structure commonly found in classrooms.


Experts from University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence suggest that teachers should clearly define their intention and expectation that students participate in activities and in discussions. However, because some students are unsure of a teacher’s expectations, it is wise to start the year or semester by discussing what is meant by “active participation.” Some teachers find it effective to include class participation as a clearly-defined part of a student’s grade. Be ever mindful, though, of how engagement is tied to rewards as it can work against the goals of the teacher and classroom.


Charles C. Bonwell and James A. Eison from The National Teaching & Learning Forum encourage teachers to assign in-class ungraded writing exercises to students before discussions. This gives students the opportunity to develop and organize their thoughts so that they have plenty of material to bring to the discussion. For example, before leading a discussion on prohibition, assign each student to write three reasons why prohibition is a good idea and three reasons why prohibition is a bad idea. Give students five or ten minutes to finish writing, then start the discussion.

Small Groups

Another method that works well to encourage discussion is by putting students in small discussion groups. This is especially beneficial for shy students who do not want to speak in front of an entire classroom of students. These shy students are more comfortable speaking with a few of their peers, and this type of discussion atmosphere is the ideal atmosphere for genuine conversations rather than unsubstantial outbursts in order to receive check marks for participation points.

A teacher will improve his or her students’ interest in classroom participation by putting one or more of these methods into practice. It is important to remember that not all students respond the same way to teaching methods, so it is a good idea to experiment and find a combination of methods that works well for a particular classroom. Give each method a chance, and ask for input from students about which methods they like best.

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