Fostering Student Participation

These easy-to-implement techniques offer ideas on how to foster student participation and engagement in class.

A Simple Way to Engage

With a partner or in groups, have students develop a list of questions about the material (reading, film, lecture, etc.). For additional complexity, you could assign each group a certain level of question based on Bloom’s taxonomy; for example, level one would be recall questions (define, identify) and level two would be concept questions (predict, categorize) and so on. After students have compiled their questions, groups will take turns asking their questions for the other groups to answer so that students are making sense of and engaging with the material.

Table Talk

Write a thought provoking statement or question related to the subject of the upcoming lesson on the chalkboard. Students have two minutes to read the topic, reflect, and write a response. Students have three minutes to share their response with a partner, reflect, and write a response to their partner’s statement. Pairs combine to form small groups of four to six students. Responses are shared within the group and one response is chosen to share with the whole class. (From Jennifer Barnett)

Promoting Analysis

In this exercise, the instructor hands out sentence templates or stems to individuals or groups. Students must fill in the rest of the template which can be in paragraph or essay form. Examples include ” The author argues that ___________. Our view is that ____________ because ________________.” You can tailor these prompts depending on what information and skills you want to evoke. You can also do this on a flip chart, with groups working together and sharing and explaining their answers to the class. From Barkley, E. F. (2009). “Student-Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty” (John Wiley & Sons).


This strategy provides an alternative to whole group discussion in which a few tend to dominate while others stay silent. Students are placed into  groups of four to six students and are given a discussion question to talk about. After a few minutes, two students from each group rotate to a different group, while the other group members stay in the same group. The instructor poses a new question on a similar theme. They may share some of the key points from their last group’s conversation. The next time around, students who have not rotated before may be chosen to move, so there is not the typical group stagnation that occurs. From Sarah Brown Wessling as featured on Cult of Pedagogy.


Choose quotes from a text or reading (or alternatively, have students bring in a quote) and print them on strips of paper. Pass around a bowl of quotes and have each student draw one. Give the students a few minutes to think about what the quote means and their reaction/response to it. Have them share their thoughts with the larger group or within a small group. From Barkley, E. F. (2009). “Student-Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty” (John Wiley & Sons).

Believing and Doubting

Assign an article on a controversial topic within your field. This can be done as homework or in-class. The first time students read, instruct them to make a sincere attempt to understand the author’s point of view. In groups of three or four, have them write down as many points as they can that they agree with and have them discuss why, reporting back to the class. The second time around, ask them to read the from a doubting perspective finding things they disagree with or find questionable. They should create a second list and report out, opening up discussion to the larger class. This helps them take an active role in their reading by imagining and considering other viewpoints. From Barkley, E. F. (2009). “Student-Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty” (John Wiley & Sons).

The Fish Bowl

Students are given index cards, and asked to write down one question concerning the course material. They should be directed to ask a question of clarification regarding some aspect of the material which they do not fully understand.  At the end of the class period (or, at the beginning of the next class meeting if the question is assigned for homework), students deposit their questions in a fish bowl. The instructor then draws several questions out of the bowl and answers them for the class or asks the class to answer them. From California State University, Los Angeles.

The One-Minute Paper

This technique provides a quick and  simple way check for student understanding during class. To use the Minute Paper, an instructor stops class two or three minutes early and asks students to respond briefly to some variation on the following two questions: “What was the most important thing you learned during this class?” and “What important question remains unanswered?” Students write their responses on index cards or half-sheets of scrap paper and hand them in. From University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

A Moving Debate

Pose a controversial question within your field. Assign the sides of the room to a position on the issue. Have students move to the side that corresponds with their views. Then, ask them to go speak with someone from the other side and discuss their reasoning for their position. After a few minutes, ask people to again go to the side they agree with. See who, if any, changed and hold a discussion about why and what was discussed.

Further Resources