Tips from the McMaster Community

Suppose you ask a question in class and no one volunteers an answer.
Terry Seawright, School of Business

In order to ensure lots of lively participation in my classes, I try to set up a situation where students want to participate. I do this in the following ways:

At the start of each new course, I strike a contract with my students. We agree that in exchange for their participation, I will not correct them in class when they make a "mistake". In the supportive atmosphere that results, students usually obtain any correction necessary from the ongoing flow of the discussion, as the pros and cons of a particular point or course of action are weighed. When they don't, I will talk to them after class.

When a vocal student makes a point, I ask for reactions from the other students. Reluctant students respond better to another student's point than to one posed by me.

I ask for special insights from students who have first-hand knowledge of the subject (industry, country, etc.) under discussion. Students are more likely to participate when they know they are on solid ground and possess information not available to the rest.

I have learned to read the signals from the more reluctant students that they are ready for a little push. Eye contact, a receptive facial expression, body language, the slightest raising of a finger, can all be signs that a student is ready to participate. I give the student an opportunity to speak, while avoiding the possibility of embarrassment, by asking a question like, "John, do you have a point you wish to make?"

These are some of the ways I help students overcome their reluctance to participate.

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