We've all been there. You've read the text over and over, you know the material backwards and forwards, you're primed for a rigorous discussion of the finer points, and when you ask your students for their opinions, you find yourself staring at row after row of blank faces. Suddenly you find yourself on the wrong side of a Ferris Bueller moment, "Anyone? Anyone?" Or maybe you've got them talking, at least two or three of them, while everyone else rolls their eyes or tunes out. Or they're all talking, but the conversation is misdirected, off topic or inflammatory and out of control. This section can help you create a classroom where participation is frequent, equitable and productive.
Communicate the importance of participation in your class; make clear that their input is valuable and part of their coursework.
Establish Community Guidelines- ask students what they think makes a discussion productive and inclusive.
Use a variety of techniques and strategies to get students involved in discussion.
Facilitation is cat-herding: pay attention to the balance of student interest and your learning goals for the day. Have a fairly detailed discussion plan prepared, but don't so be rigid that you stifle conversation.
Give them time to think- Have a question written on the board as they enter class. Have them begin each class with reflective writing, or better yet- have them write a reading response before they come to class.
(NOTE: The below links will open in a new browser tab or window)
Responding Effectively to Student Questions
"This is the second of a two-part "Teach Talk" devoted to the craft of asking and answering questions in the classroom" (Vol. VIII, No. 2, January/February 1996).
Affirmation of Community Standards
University of Oregon Affirmation of Community Standards: To set forth and affirm a clear and cogent statement of common community standards.
The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching
The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) developed the following guidelines to help instructors facilitate classroom discussions about various topics and issues.
Leading Effective Discussions
Classes tend to develop a collective personality ("I have a really quiet group this term", "I've never had such a talkative bunch", "Trying to have a discussion is like pulling teeth with this group.") For this reason, it's a good idea to try different techniques and strategies to keep lively discussions going.
This technique emphasizes the importance of group roles and processes in a discussion and gives students more responsibility for participating in and sharing facilitation responsibilities in a dialogue with their peers.
What are some good ways to facilitate a discussion? This section of the TEP site addresses ways to set up a class environment that promotes productive discussions.
How do I bring out shy students? This TEP page offers various recommendations for bringing shy students into a discussion
Literature Circles Resource Center
While this site is intended for lower grades, there are some practical and useful ideas that might be adapted for your classes.
Motivating Students is from Univeresity of Wisconsin Whtewater's Learn Center and includes "Strategies, Ideas, and Recommendations from the faculty Development Literature," including a section on "Motivating Students to Do the Reading."