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Robert W. Gehl @robertwgehl

Ok, fellow professors, I need help. Tips on getting more students to participate in class discussions. I have tried:
1) "warm up" questions, where they form groups and come up with answers to the Qs I will pose as we discuss
2) Full-on group work where they write out questions based on the reading, as well as their answers

They will talk a lot during those, but when I ask questions, the same 10% of class answers.

Any suggestions?

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@robertwgehl How large is the class?

If it's larger than, say, 15 people, then that probably explains why splitting up into groups is the most effective

The larger the group the more difficult it is to foster engagement, I think

@robertwgehl 2 suggestions (that are based on my experiences as a student):

1) Give the questions before the session so they have time to prepare.
2) Assign a handful of students for each session who will be asked first and who have to answer before other people in the class get a chance to. One of my professors did this and I think it also helped shy students to speak when they weren't "on duty".

@robertwgehl In my opinion a professor's job is to teach the material, be there if their students have questions, and verify the students have learned the material through exams and coursework. Not to force students to be extroverts. As long as your students are passing (and have learned the material) then you have done your job. Not everyone is comfortable speaking in front of others.

@robertwgehl Seek out Howard Rheingold for suggestions. He taught at Stanford for several years and knows a lot about harnessing students’ attention.


Award them points for participation. (I'm not a professor but I've tried the technique with classes I've facilitated.)

@robertwgehl Have you tried designating a student or two per class session to be "official questioners"? As asking question in class is a form of vulnerability for a lot of people (not knowing something = weakness, to many), this helps lower the risk due to the mutual nature of the procedure. It's not about forcing introverts to be extroverts, it's about teaching one of the skills needed to be an educated member of a largely democratic society: the articulation of questions in the public sphere.

Have them write out three questions before class, and collect it as homework.
Have the ones who don't talk ask their questions, and have the class answer them—if they talk to each other in class, they become more willing to talk to you.
Wear bluejeans and T-shirts—I swear it helps. (So does skateboarding to class.)

When you ask a question, don't call on the usual suspects, and wait a full two minutes, by the clock, for an answer: 30 seconds for them to believe you mean it, 30 seconds to think about what the question was, 30 seconds to formulate an answer, and 30 seconds to conclude that no one else is going to answer. Praise all answers, no matter how bad. This is very uncomfortable the first few times, but it works.

Or do what most Professors do—be grateful no one asks questions, so you can finish your prepared lecture. That is less work, and it leaves you more time for research.