Helping Students Engage in Class Discussion

How do we get students to move beyond “seeming” to pay attention to true engagement in the classroom? There are numerous strategies. Allow students the opportunity to formulate their thoughts prior to being called on to verbally participate.

We can do this in two ways, by posing a question and simply waiting for a response (silence is ok!) or using the think-pair-share technique: Ask students to take one minute and write in response to a question, then ask students to share their thoughts with a classmate. Finally, have pairs of students share with the whole class.

Another strategy is to provide discussion questions ahead of class to accompany a reading assignment, which then are used as the basis for class discussion. The questions help students identify key concepts and issues in the reading, and allow them to formulate their thoughts prior to being expected to articulate them in class.

Yet a third strategy to help students engage is an in-class short response paper. Students write a paragraph, reacting to a question or issue raised in the reading assignment or through online just-in-time quizzes.

With these, faculty can replace the norm of seeming attentive with the expectation that all students come prepared to participate in classroom discussion. This shift increases the likelihood that not only will students learn more, but also develop lifelong learning skills.

Adapted from Class Discussion: From Blank Stares to True Engagement
Jay Howard, Ph.D.