8 Ways to Encourage Class Participation in Middle School

Promoting Class Participation, Strategies We know that class participation can accomplish many goals as an instructional strategy. In addition to engaging students, participation promotes speaking and listening skills, and can be utilized as a quick formative assessment tool.

The challenge with class participation is to get ALL kids to participate; even the shy and anxious ones. As one articulate 10-year-old said to me, “If I speak up and say the wrong thing, they won’t let me forget it for the REST of my life. It’s a jungle out there.”

It is indeed. So I’m going to share some “fresh ideas” for eliciting participation without kids having to worry about “the jungle.”

I’m also linking with some awesome bloggers who are contributing their own “fresh ideas,” along with a chance for you win a cool prize!

1. Create a Positive Classroom Environment

The starting point is to create a positive classroom environment. We know that kids have to feel safe and respected in order to learn. A little mindfulness in regard to relationship building can lead to a classroom in which it is okay to take risks. I wrote more about creating a postitive enviroment here.

We can also employ a number of other creative techniques and teacher response strategies that can allow kids to save face and avoid embarrassment.

2. Brainwrite & Share

This is a nice change from brainstorming, in which students call out their ideas en masse. The problem with brainstorming is that a few ultra-assertive kids tend to take over. With brainwriting, every idea has an equal chance of being heard.
Individuals have their own mini-brainstorm session and furiously write every idea that comes to mind. Sometimes we write on sticky notes and then plaster them all over the walls or on a chart for the class to discuss.

It’s low-risk sharing because no one knows who wrote which ideas. It’s also equitable because it frees us from focusing on one person’s idea. This is a great way to ensure strong class participation from everyone and there’s no worry about “the jungle.”

3. Phone a Friend

Ask a student who answers incorrectly to “phone” a friend to answer. This gives a student an extra chance to be correct, albeit indirectly. Then be sure to…

  • Choose Wisely

Ask an easy question of someone who previously answered incorrectly. Pair this with “phone a friend,” and you’ve given a student who could be feeling like a failure TWO chances to be correct. Bingo. He’s got self-esteem for all the right reasons and is more like to participate in class again.

4. Mad Scientist Writing

My kids gave this idea the name Mad Scientist Writing because that’s what they feel like when they do it.

It works this way:

  • Ask a question and have students answer fast and furiously on scrap paper.
  • Quickly scan the answers as you go around the room. Sometimes I’ll just go to one table or down one row and I’ll choose one of the kids who got the answer right to share aloud.

If I notice a struggling or shy student got the question right, I’ll give them a subtle thumbs-up or a wink before calling on them. This little vote of confidence really bolsters their confidence before venturing into the jungle and sharing it aloud.

5. Call Answers “Ideas”

If your question is interpretive, ask for an idea instead of an answer. This prevents kids from thinking there’s only one answer, freeing them to share.

This is a great place for the classic class participation technique Think, Pair, Share and all of its variations!

Think, Pair, Share is a useful collaboration strategy in which students work together to answer a question or complete a problem. It’s very low risk, because kids get a chance to try their answer out before sharing. So it builds confidence, as well as problem-solving skills. I wrote more about this technique here.
Here are some variations on the classic model:

6. Think, Pair, Re-pair, Share

This is Think, Pair, Share with a twist. Instead of sharing right away, partners swap with a person in another group to gain a different perspective on the issue. The class can come together to share after the kids have had a chance to test their idea out safely with just one or two others.

7. Think, Pair, Write, Share

This variation has students thinking and pairing with another student. Then each one will spend a couple of minutes summarizing the other student’s idea in writing. Students can then do a check-in with the other person to see if their partner has the gist of their idea down. When sharing, students will share their partner’s idea, not their own.

8. The BEST Face-Saving Response Ever…

Simply respond: “A lot of people say that. Let’s figure out why!”

This response validates the person sharing by making them see that they are in good company in not knowing the answer. It can also lead to a whole new set of discoveries that can be made by the class.

If you have any great ideas, (and I’m sure you do!) please share! I’m always looking for more ways to get kids to participate!