Multiple Choice: Students don’t participate because _____________.
a. they’re worried about making a mistake
b. they’ve worked all day and are tired
c. they’re too shy to volunteer
d. all of the above
Participation can be tricky with all ages. It can be awkward when you ask for a volunteer
and no one offers. Or you ask a question and no one answers. It can be especially
tough in a new class, students are unsure of each other and are unsure of the teacher.
As teachers, we need to set the mood for the class. We need to be encouraging, open,
and friendly. Below are some quick tips to get your class in participation mode.
• Be careful not to over correct or echo what students say too much. Students may feel
like they are constantly making mistakes. Correction is necessary, but we don’t need
to correct every little mistake. Use your discretion.
• Don’t let one student answer every question. We feel relief when that one student
always has the answers, but other students need to feel like they have a chance too. Call on other students.
• Don’t always ask the whole class questions. Put students in pairs or in groups to
check answers or discuss a topic. This will increase your student talk time and will get
• Be mindful of students derailing your lesson. It seems like there’s always that one
student who has a question that is not related to your lesson or relevant to your class.
Do answer the questions, but gently tell the student that you will do so before or after
class. You don’t want other students feeling lost or bored.
• Often times with adults, we simply ask for volunteers. Switch it up. Call on students. It
keeps them on their toes and gives shier students a chance.
• Give students time to talk. It is easy to find yourself caught up in the ‘teaching’ part of
the lesson. Remember, it is your students’ time to practice English, not just listen to it.
Your class may be the only chance they have to practice English.
• Train your students to participate. On your first day of teaching, if you require your
students to talk and actively participate, they will become accustomed to it. Any level
can participate, whether it is saying a word or two in a beginner class or expressing an
opinion in an advanced class.
• Avoid taboo subjects. Sometimes it happens. We think we’ve planned the perfect
conversation class. You’re normally talkative class is completely silent. Try to be
aware of culture sensitivities. As foreigners, it will be impossible to know them all. If
you’re unsure of a subject, run it by a coworker.
• Be aware of pairing students up who are opposite genders or have a big age gap.
Some cultures don’t mind, but others find it really uncomfortable and will not speak to
each other. If this happens, don’t be afraid to rearrange or regroup students.