I participated in every class – from elementary school all the way through college. I was constantly raising my hand. My participation grade almost never fell below an A.
But that wasn’t the same for many of my classmates. Some never said a word.
That’s why I wanted to write this article. To help teachers use more strategies to get students talking, building on each other’s ideas, and making sure their voice is heard.
Where do we start?
First off, I believe technology limits discussion. When you watch a video about protons and neutrons, someone else talks. Students sit there lifeless. And in my experience, they fall asleep. That’s not learning!
Will talking more really change things?
Absolutely. Look at college classes. Many of them are lectures – and all they do is talk! They were some of the most amazing classes I’ve taken, too. Talking to others builds a more human connection than reading a textbook, watching a movie, or answering questions from a smartphone (that seems to be quite the trend now!)
How do you get students talking?
It starts with five steps designed to help every student speak their mind and find commonality with their peers.
Let’s get started…
1. Assess your current teaching methods
You won’t know where to change your teaching methods if you don’t figure out where you are: who needs help, what lessons work better than others, and why is that? These are just a couple questions to ask yourself as you begin to transform your classroom.
2. Pinpoint students to talk to
You know there are students who simply don’t talk in your class. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them. See if they’ll tell you why they’re not participating. It may be because they didn’t do their homework, they’re shy, or they just don’t like talking. This leads to the next point.
3. Learn from your students
One of the only ways you’re going to improve as a teacher is to learn from those you teach. Yes, your Masters in Education is valuable, too, but nothing is more valuable than talking with your students to see what works for them. Every year – or semester – is different. The same thing isn’t going to work year after year.
4. Test new teaching methods
Once you’ve gotten feedback from your students – or even fellow teachers – make a change. Incorporate new teaching methods and see how they go. Do you like them? Are students more engaged?
5. Get feedback and repeat
Find out if students are learning. What can you change? Should you go back to your old teaching methods? Part of becoming an outstanding teacher is the ability to switch it up, try something new, and see how it goes. Keep improving and you’ll eventually find what makes your students tick.
You’re basically doing an A/B test. It happens every day in business, but so few teachers apply it to their own classrooms. Many do the same thing for years. They use the same worksheets, the same lessons plans, and solicit the same, often mute, response from their students.
Get creative with your teaching methods
Find new ways to teach lessons, encourage dialogue, and build a more dynamic classroom. Here are a few ideas:
1. Incorporate more group work
Group work is the norm – not the exception – in school today. And I think there should be more group work. Why? Because it’s how things get done in the work world. People work in teams, whether it’s your life partners, your business partners, or your co-workers. You have to work with others to get tasks done. Think about the projects you can turn into group assignments. This gets everyone participating, a natural leader appears, and everyone knows what piece of the project they’re working on. It’s like real life!
2. Get students out of their desks
Hate being stuck at a desk all day? Yeah – so do your students. Make class more interactive by getting students up and out of their desks. Use the time to act out a skit, go outside to explore the pond for biology class, or open up a classwide store to help students learn small business inventory concepts. Get creative!
3. Do more student presentations
I’d say you could incorporate this strategy around 4th grade. Why? Because public speaking is so important to success. Everything you do revolves around public speaking: getting what you want from your parents, landing your first job, negotiating rent, impressing your boss at the big meeting, etc. Getting public speaking and presentation skills down early is not only important, but it forces students to get over their fear. A fear many adults still have!
4. Re-define class participation
I was always frustrated when class participation was so ambiguous that you had no idea how it was graded. Some teachers put a checkmark next to your name when you answered a question (incredibly intimidating!), some noticed you helping out other students, etc. I encourage you to be clear when it comes to class participation. Maybe it’s not just speaking up in class, but approaching you to see how they can do better or understand a lesson. If you ask me, that’s participating. It’s just not raising their hand.
5. Have students build something
Why read about physics when you can build a motion machine? In 5th grade, my class built motion machines. The project not only taught me about Newton’s three laws of motion, it taught me about creativity, and encouraged family time. Assigning a project is fun, engaging, and an opportunity for students who may not participate in class verbally, to contribute in other ways.
With these techniques, you’re sure to get more participation from every student. When you change up your lessons plan, you’ll be surprised at how dynamic that makes your classroom. Plus, when students go home, they’ll likely answer “How’d school go today?” with more than just “good”.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to have students excited about your class? Then, get rid of the textbooks and teach differently. You’ll have more fun and your students will love coming to class – whether they’re quiet or not.
Have you recently changed the way you teach? Has it been beneficial for all of your students? Let us know in the comments below.
Author bio: Michael Adams is the Manager of Account Trajectory at QuizBean, an online quiz maker to help teachers instantly know how they’re students are performing. Make your first quiz for free at QuizBean.com.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, CarbonNYC.