By Anke Geertsma and Kaitlin Mondello

Asking a question followed by a long silence is often a nerve-racking experience for instructors. Are the students not doing the reading? Is the topic not interesting to them? Do they not like this class? Do they not like me? Are they just being shy? In our recent workshop on “Participation” we tried to unpack this concept and encouraged instructors to do the same with their students, since the more you talk about participation with your class, the more likely they are to participate. Below are three strategies to encourage both verbal and nonverbal forms of participation in your classes:

  1. Define participation on your syllabus and the metrics by which it will be measured in as much detail as possible. Here is some sample language to adapt for your courses, as well as a sample rubric. You can also ask your class to develop its own participation rubric as an exercise to get students thinking and talking about participation.
  2. Use “scaffolded participation” (scaffolding is not just for large assignments) by starting students with a short reflective writing. Then have them share that writing with one other person in a think/pair/share activity, before moving to a large group discussion. By giving students the time to think, reflect, and affirm their ideas in response to a question before being called upon to speak in a larger group, you give all students time to answer more carefully and reflectively.
  3.  Assign participator roles: A great exercise, adapted from the Writing across the Curriculum program at Lehman College, lets students practice and reflect on different participator roles in small groups. Check out this participation exercise which can be done in class or online. Consider adding non-speaking roles like listener, note-taker, and illustrator to make room for those students who prefer to participate in non-verbal way.

Anke Geertsma is a TLC fellow and a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature. Kaitlin Mondello is a TLC fellow and a Ph.D. candidate in English.