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.

  1. Jean Scott says:

    Wish my memories were more specific — it was at least 30 years ago! I do remember how the children ‘s minds [and mine!] really opened up as they realized there was no one “right” answer but many right questions. Our minds learned to examine, imagine, and apply the ideas of a story to our personal lives. I remember meeting with my co-leader to plan and as we discussed the book together we both had many “aha!’ moments. I participate in a book club today and am an avid reader, in part because of that wonderful experience years ago.

    1. Sharon Crowley says:

      Thanks for sharing Jean! Those “aha!” moments are the best, aren’t they? We’ve heard many teachers and students use the same language when describing their time using Junior Great Books—it’s awesome that “aha!” seems to be a universal experience. We’re going to be in touch with you soon so we can send you a book to thank you for sharing your memories. Watch for an email that ends with

      Be well,
      your friends at Great Books

  2. When my children were in a parochial grade school, I offered to lead an after-school Junior Great Books Discussion group. I had learned the Great Books Method of discussion as a student teacher and had spent 4 years working my way through law school, where the Socratic Method of teaching neatly mirrors the GBM.

    The kids surprised me. They wanted to be there and wanted to learn. It was not merely their parents insisting on their taking this course. We really dug into “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, which I had never read before. Its easily close to twenty years ago since I taught the course, so my memory is a little hazy on details, but the fact that I was able to captivate children of a range of ages, differing skills and different interests remains in my mind as the most important aspect of my season of teaching Great Books Method.

    I started an Adult Book Club close to 10 years ago, and was the leader for years (until I just wore out). Our discussions were based on GBM of discussion and we always an in depth discussion. When we started rotating the leadership, we started getting questions like “Who was your favorite character?”…almost made me go back to leading.

    1. Sharon Crowley says:

      Hi Erica! Thank you for sharing your impressive experience and commitment to Great Books. You represent the best of our Great Books community—bringing Junior Great Books to students and later starting a Great Books group. We’re indebted to people like you, and are grateful for your time and support. We’ll be in touch with you soon—please watch from an email that ends with

      With thanks,
      your friends at Great Books

  3. Kelly Adams says:

    I am currently working on a Masters of Education in Literacy at Judson University in Elgin, IL. In today’s course, LIT520 Reaching Second Language Readers and Writers, the professor mentioned the Junior Great Books program and how beneficial it would be for educators to get trained. I was so excited to hear another person mention Junior Great Books. During break, I immediately went to your website and came across this post about alumni. I had to share! I have asked colleagues whether they were a part of this program growing up, but much to my dismay no one had participated or knew about Junior Great Books.
    I remember in 6th grade at Dearborn Street School in California (LAUSD), I would stay after-school and read and discuss great books in the teacher’s lounge of my school. This was over forty years ago, so the details are long forgotten, but the memory of participating in this reading group has stayed with me. Perhaps this was the impetus for my great love of reading, and the catalyst that launched my teaching career. I will never know; however, the fond memories associated with reading and Junior Great Books remains!!

  4. Julia Kara says:

    I am a former student that read Junior Great Books in my GATE class in 5th through 8th grade, over 35 years ago. I am now a 1st grade teacher with a highly gifted student in my class that is reading at a 5th to 6th grade level. I am in search of resources to keep her challenged, and the first books I thought of were the Junior Great Books I remembered digging so deeply into. It was the first time I remember having to really think deeply and analyze a story. I particularly remember reading “To Build a Fire” and being deeply affected by it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *