Students young and old have little trouble talking to their peers about their favorite movies, sports teams, or their plans for the weekend. Pushing students to bring their conversation skills into academic settings is easier said than done. Encouraging children, teens, and young adults to participate in whole class and small group discussion is extremely important. Talking about the concepts they’re studying in the classroom helps students work through their misunderstandings, solicit help and advice, and demonstrate their own understanding.
Here are a few strategies for getting your least engaged students motivated to talk about their schoolwork:
1. Provide discussion prompts
A common sight in early elementary school classrooms are reference charts and support structures to help young writers tell their stories. Instead of providing sentence starters to help students write, give them a list of discussion prompts to help them jump into conversations. Post these questions stems on a reference chart or pass out a list of question starters. If you are working with older students who might find this tactic too elementary, pose a different question starter on the board during each class meeting. Encourage them to come back to this particular discussion prompt throughout the period and change it up each week.
2. Hold them accountable
You don’t have to award points or give out tickets to students to hold them accountable for participating in class discussions. Build participation into your expectations and encourage all students to share. Designing time in your class schedule for whole group discussions to discuss academic content or pairing up students with a different partner each week can help you use the face-to-face time with your students more efficiently. In addition to holding students accountable for talking, you’ll want to make sure that they are adding quality over quantity to discussions. Model how to build off of one person’s contribution or how to paraphrase what another student said. This will make sure that they are all being good listeners and are ready to provide their own two cents.
3. Praise their contributions
All students want to feel valued for their presence and contributions throughout the school day. Make sure that you are consistently praising students who participate in discussions. This could be as general as saying, “Thank you __(name)__ for sharing!” or as specific as, “I like how you shared your thoughts about __(topic)__.” Praise can take place in front of the whole class during a discussion or one-on-one conversation after class.
4. Prepare to share
Sometimes your students aren’t talking about academic content because they don’t know what to say. Give time for students to prepare to share. This could take the form of a stop and jot before a discussion where you give students a few minutes to write down a response to a question before sharing with the whole group. You can also try a think, pair, share, where students take a minute to ponder a question, then get in partners and share their thoughts to one another before coming back to a whole class discussion. This will help reluctant students feel more confident when it is their turn to participate in a discussion.
5. Dedicate an online space for discussion
An online learning platform like Chalkup can offer the perfect solution for students who aren’t engaged in whole class discussions. This space can be used to tailor conversations to academic content. As an instructor, you can bring these questions and talking points back to your whole class to help facilitate conversations that are related to academic content.
Working with students who are reluctant to talk about their school work can definitely be a challenge. Try one of these strategies to encourage students to share their experiences tackling academic content!