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How can I encourage my students to participate?

This situation might sound familiar:
During discussions, when you ask questions, and when handing in assignments, certain students speak up often while others speak up rarely or never.

Reserved behavior in learning environments can have various causes:
Students might still be thinking about a question. They might be thinking about something else entirely. They might be missing certain information. They might be very bored or frustrated with the situation. Perhaps the assignment’s objective does not match your students’ own learning objectives or motivations. Perhaps they do not want to speak up in front of a large group. Perhaps they think their own thoughts are incorrect or immature.

Possible solutions:

Group work:
Group work counters students’ fears of speaking in front of a large group. Some students find it easier to talk in a smaller group than in front of the entire class. Also, the lecturer (you) is not always present, which students might find liberating.
Important: Make sure that everyone in the small group truly has a chance to speak, for example by assigning rotating spokespeople, by occasionally visiting each group and offering support, or by raising the issue of equal participation at the beginning of the group work section and including this as a topic when evaluating the group work.
Whisper sessions:
Whisper sessions are mini-group conversations between people sitting next to each other. These often arise spontaneously and informally, so lecturers tend to perceive them as disruptive “background noise.” However, you can also employ them intentionally after presenting a topic or posing a larger question. This gives students a chance to “rehearse” their spontaneous ideas, questions, and criticisms with other students before discussing them with the class at large. Students who are generally reserved often feel more comfortable speaking in public after a whisper session. This way, all students get a chance to think through what they want to say in advance. Whisper sessions engage students and lead to more diverse and often higher-quality comments. (Whisper sessions)


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Didactic Principles