Common classroom participation issues and how to overcome them

As a teacher in the UK, one of the best feelings you can get is to be standing in front of the classroom and see every student engaged and passionate about a topic of conversation. After all, one of the main purposes of teaching is to breed insightful and educated students who are excited about sharing their views on world issues. However, all too often you probably find that there are at least a few students who hold back from participation in certain activities and are failing to get involved. This lack of participation can be due to a number of issues, many of which aren’t your fault. So, to help you deal with such situations and encourage greater involvement in classroom-wide discussions, here are 3 common classroom participation issues and how to overcome them.

Issue #1 The topic is too difficult

A common classroom scenario we find is that, after setting a homework activity, the students arrive the next day and you find that very few people are actually able to offer deep insight into the topic.

Encourage teamwork

Often, you will find that the topic was too hard, but that’s fine. It just means that you need to give the students a chance to bring themselves up to speed, and one of the best ways to do that is by group preparation. Before opening it up to the classroom, divide the room into large groups where they can share their thoughts and help each other to fill in the blanks.

Offer anonymous feedback forms

It may be natural to assume that the students have failed to do their homework and put in the appropriate effort. Or, as is often the case, maybe you should consider that the work overstepped their comfort levels. To test this, before you start going through the work allow every student the chance to fill out a card with what they found difficult about the homework and what they found easy. This gives you the chance to prepare for what topics were particularly hard and to avoid unwelcome silences later.

Use a bitesize approach

pexels-iqwan-alif-1206101-minIf you are going over one big, particularly difficult topic, such as what caused WW1, instead of distributing all of the content to everyone at once you should break it up into smaller chunks of 4 or 5 topics. Then, break the room up into 5 groups and let each group learn 1 topic at a time. Then you have a few options, you can simply alternate what topic each group then learns. Or alternatively, make 5 new groups with 1 student from every topic in each group; you then let them teach each other.

Issue #2: The topic is repetitive

As exams approach and deadlines loom, you will find yourself often going over the same topics again and again as a means to enforce the lessons learnt. But this leads to a common problem of students simply tuning out because they are bored or frustrated with the same conversation again and again.

Understand what they know

Either hand out questionnaires or simply invite every student to come forward and write on the board what they are most and least confident on. This way, you can quickly see what the underlying topics are that the students are most worried about. Based on what you see you can then decide whether your lesson plan is the best way forward, or if instead, it would be better to focus on other topics that lesson.

Make use of groups

To get the most out of the lesson, allow students to work in groups to go over topics that they are least confident on. This is where the first step comes in useful as you can accurately divide up the class based on their feedback. Rather than making everyone go over algebra, it may be better to have one group focusing on fractions, another on algebra and the other on geometry.

Issue #3 The discussion is based around you and not them

It is very easy to develop an “us” and “them” centred discussion in a classroom as the traditional structure of the room enforces that kind of attitude. When teaching in the UK, many teachers fall into the trap of breeding more of a lecture rather than a true classroom discussion.

pexels-yan-krukov-8617813-minGive them a say

You can do some very simple things every day to enforce the fact that the classroom environment as a whole belongs to everyone and not just you. This can mean decorating the walls with their work, by letting them have some say on how the room is arranged and even where they want to sit. Then, when it comes to discussing a topic, let everyone have their say early on to enforce their participation.

Keep them busier than you

The best way to avoid the lecture pitfall of making a lesson about you is to make sure everyone is active with a variety of different methods. This could be them completing worksheets or engaging in group work. One way of ensuring you are fully engaged with what your students are thinking, is to introduce the lesson in the normal way, but make it clear that for the rest of the time you will be drifting around answering and engaging in questions that they ask you, not the other way around.

Hopefully, you can take some important and useful lessons from this list and start to think of ways to ensure all of your students are participating as much as possible. Just remember that it doesn’t stop here, and instead, you should constantly be thinking creatively and trying new ways to get the most out of each of your lessons participation.

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