student raising hand in classStudent participation not only adds interest to a course, it also provides a way for you to promote active learning and assess understanding. It is common for only a few people to speak up in a group, especially a large class. These four tips will help you to foster an environment where all students know what is expected of them and feel comfortable participating.

1. Plan Ahead

There are many ways to teach a course: lecture, discussion, or cooperative learning are just a few. When planning your course, you’ll need to determine which teaching method you’ll primarily use and how student participation will be integrated. Not every class will need to be the same, but knowing which method you prefer will help you determine your expectations for student participation.

2. Set the Tone

Your students need to know what you expect when it comes to their participation. Explain what you envision for the course and how you would like for them to respond during class time. Do you welcome questions and comments throughout the class or only at certain times? Will you allow time for cooperative learning and group work? Are students going to be graded for their participation, or lack thereof? All of these things should be clearly addressed in the beginning of your course.

It is also important to lay some ground rules about what you expect within student interactions. Depending on the age and maturity level of your class, this can be brief or extensive. Simple guidelines such as being respectful, letting people finish without being interrupted and staying on topic are often sufficient.

3. Listen and Respond Appropriately

Make sure you create an atmosphere that is consistent with your initial message. To do this, be aware of how you are responding to your students. Both verbal and non-verbal cues will either encourage students to participate or intimidate them. Make eye contact with students while they are speaking, and also use eye contact to encourage the quiet students. You will probably have several talkative students who tend to dominate the conversation so try to draw others in by asking them what they think. You may also need to gently ask the more vocal students to hold back occasionally to let other people have an opportunity to speak.

Allow wait time after asking a question, for at least thirty seconds. Be comfortable with silence! Eventually someone will speak up. Don’t interrupt when people are speaking, or allow students to interrupt each other. There will be times when a person responds with incorrect information but even then, let them finish their thoughts. Let those situations be learning opportunities by using questioning or redirection to arrive at the correct answer. Refer back to comments or questions from students to show that you are listening and thinking about what they have to say.

4. Debrief

Once class is over, review which students actively participated. Consider if there are students who need more encouragement to interact in future classes, and make a point to draw them into the discussion. This can be done by asking them a direct question or in the case of extremely shy students, mentioning to them before or after class that you’d like to hear what they have to say.