Encouraging Student Participation

By Hailey Otis

In the article, “Encouraging Student Participation: Why It Pays to Sweat the Small Stuff,” Dr. Maryellen Weimer highlights the small but important details that, when appropriately attended to, can encourage student participation (summarized below):


How often do you ask a question and when do you ask it? How often should you seek student contributions? More than you do? How often does depend on the teacher but there’s evidence from more than one study that a lot of us over estimate how often we ask questions.


How long do you wait? Research shows that most faculty wait somewhere between two and three seconds before they do something else but, when asked, most claim that they wait 10 to 12 seconds. Time passes slowly when you’ve asked a question and there’s no sign of a response—it’s awkward and uncomfortable but waiting longer has its rewards.


Do you encourage reflection before response? Student input improves if they have the opportunity to pull together their thoughts. Do you give them a minute to jot down some ideas, talk to a partner, or to just think about the question and how they might respond?


Do you move? How often do you get out from behind the podium? Do you routinely move across the space in the front of the room to where the student space begins? Do you cross the threshold into that student space?


Are you inviting engagement? As you move, are you establishing direct eye contact with students? If you’re smiling and looking relaxed, that kind of eye contact is not threatening. A lot of students won’t look at you, but some will and you can encourage them to speak with your eyes and face.


How intently do you listen? When a student speaks, are you looking at them and verbally/nonverbally indicating that you understand? Are you thinking about what they’re saying, or are you planning what you will say after they’re done speaking?


How are you showing that you value student contributions? Do you refer to the content of a good answer later in the class period or in a subsequent class? Do you point out why an answer is good? Do you value comments by writing them on the board or displaying them with the projector? Do you ever mention something you learned from a student contribution?


How often do you solicit feedback from students about interaction in your classroom? Have you asked for feedback on your responses to their contributions? What do they see as the role of interaction in your classroom? What have they learned from what other students have said?




Weimer, M. (2013) Encouraging Student Participation: Why It Pays to Sweat the Small Stuff. In Faculty Focus. Retrieved November 25, 2016 from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/encouraging-student-participation-why-it-pays-to-sweat-the-small-stuff/#sthash.p7LwCvij.dpuf.