Six Ways to Help Quiet Students Participate in Discussions

You want everyone to participate in your classroom discussion—but some students hardly ever speak! Try the strategies below for helping quiet students join the discussion. They will often begin participating when they feel supported and understood.

  1. Value all ideas. Remind students that because the purpose of discussion is to learn from each other and consider different perspectives, all ideas are valuable. The Shared Inquiry Discussion Guidelines, found in Junior Great Books and Roundtable student books, stress the importance of sharing ideas—review them with students before beginning a discussion.
  2. Give time to think. Many students have a hard time spontaneously answering questions. Giving these students (or perhaps your whole class) the discussion question to take home the night before the discussion offers them ample time to think about—and compose, if you wish—an initial response.
  3. QuietStudentsHave students write. After you pose (and display) the discussion question, give students time to write their answer, along with some evidence. Just having something written down often boosts students’ confidence. Invite a student who usually holds back to start the discussion by reading his or her answer. Let the student know, beforehand, that you’ll call on him or her first.
  4. Do a “turn and talk.” After students write their answers, but before the whole-class discussion begins, have them briefly share their initial ideas with a partner. This gives students a chance to rehearse what they’ll say to the larger group.
  5. Ask, “Do you agree?” Until they gain confidence, ask quiet students questions that don’t require a lot of elaboration or explanation—such as whether they agree or disagree with another student’s idea.
  6. Solicit a reader. If sharing or commenting on ideas seems like too much for some students, ask them to read aloud a passage referred to as evidence by another student, and count this as participation.

Quieter students are often good listeners with interesting ideas. A patient and positive approach can be just what they need to participate more fully.

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