Engaging Students


Are you struggling to get students to participate in class? Many faculty members report wanting students to be more vocal during class time. Below are some tips to improve student participation.


After asking a question, wait. Count to 10 silently. If needed, count to 10 again. It may feel you are waiting a long time, but it’s only ten seconds – and feels longer sometimes to you than to the students.  Students’ desire to break the silence may be enough to get them to engage.

Let students lead the discussion.

For a discussion-based class or a seminar, assign one or two students to lead the day’s discussion. Their classmates may feel less comfortable leaving a peer’s question hanging. A quieter student may be more comfortable leading a discussion when assigned than when volunteering.

Assign preparatory material.

If you want students to bring questions about a reading to class, try assigning them this as preparation for class. Discuss with them what good questions look like and provide some examples. If you want students to debate a topic in class, try assigning a write-up of one side of the debate as preparation for class. Having written down their ideas before class, students may be more willing to share them out-loud.

Think, pair, share.

Many students hesitate to speak up because they are not quite sure what they want to say. Some take more time to gather their thoughts. Think, pair, share (or write-pair-share) allows students an opportunity to consider a question and to write down their thoughts before sharing them. After you pose a question, ask students to think for a moment and to write down an answer (think). Once students have completed this task, invite them to share their answer with the student sitting next to them (pair). Partners can compare answers and improve their own answers with the discussion. The instructor then calls on a few pairs to share their answers with the class (share).

Getting Students to do the Work

Instructors sometimes struggle with getting students to do the work for the course. This may entail reading the text prior to a seminar discussion or more completing their homework in a timely and thoughtful way.

Get student buy-in.

Students prefer to complete worthwhile work. State your own learning goals for them for the course and outline how your assignments work towards meeting these goals. Ask students what they hope to gain from the course and discuss how you intend to help them achieve their learning goals. When appropriate, allow students flexibility in an assignment so that it better fits their needs and interests.

Provide incentives.

You want students to watch that video before coming to class. But they are struggling to balance 4 other classes with yours as well as extracurricular activities and their job. Graded activities are more likely to be prioritized. Provide a short quiz on the video to encourage students to watch it. You can set up an on-line quiz in Sakai if you do not want to use class time for the quiz.

Make your expectations clear.

Students may think they are complying with the expectations of the course. Be as specific as possible with your expectations. If you want students to have engaged a text, let them know what that might look like. Show them an annotated text, an excellent example of a reading journal, or sample questions of varying quality about the text. One particular way of doing this is to…

Provide a rubric.

Rubrics set clear grading standards for students. Details about what you are looking for in an assignment doesn’t ‘give away the game’ but rather lets students in on the rules of the game.