Class ParticipationI teach Writing Across the Humanities to a class of very reticent college freshman. It's an intro to literature course. I am searching for strategies that will entice them to...

Class Participation

I teach Writing Across the Humanities to a class of very reticent college freshman. It's an intro to literature course. I am searching for strategies that will entice them to participate.  I have used literature circles, but I can't do that every week.  Does anyone have suggestions?

Asked on by bhogan

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litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I use the Socrtatic Seminar/Harness method.  I break the book up into sections or use it with a story.  First, I teach Bloom's Taxonomy and show students how to write questions about a story based on higher-level thinking.  These are questions with no right answer, or discussable questions.  They write 5-7 questions, with page references.  Then, I have them meet in a circle with just chairs.  I give each child 3 poker chips, but the number of chips depends on how much time you have and how many students are in the class.  I do not discuss the book with them, and they ask and answer there own questions.  We pass around a ball or other object, and only the person with it can talk.  I am also experimenting with this method in small literature circle groups, now that students are experienced with it. 

engtchr5's profile pic

engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

Even college kids still appreciate a few of the ol' high school gimmicks to increase participation: Start with bribery, er, I mean "incentives." This can be anything from popular pieces of candy to campus bookstore coupons, but something just to get them opening up and speaking out. As participation increases, you can wean them off the initial incentives, and bonds will build between the kids as they learn more about one another in the process.

timbrady's profile pic

timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

I think some of the fear of writing comes from the fear of failure.  In order to take away this fear, I don't grade the first few papers they write, although I do evaluate them and indicate areas where they can improve.  (I am also working with early college students, although they are adults.)  This can sometimes be pretty brutal (I don't see any point in telling them that something is good or OK when it isn't), but we agree before the writing that this is the only way they will learn/improve.  They get information that can help them and it doesn't affect their grade.  When we finally get to graded writing, they have had some practice and, hopefully, have additional confidence.

And it always helps if they have something to write about that they actually care about ...

rshaffer's profile pic

rshaffer | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

I agree with #6.  I, too, conduct Socratic Seminars with my students as stated above.  This is an effective method for participation of all students.  Students have to discuss in order to get a grade.  My students love doing this because the discussions are student led as opposed to teacher led.

Another strategy I used with my students was to allow them to come up with the a writing assignment that they teach the class.  Students seem to enjoy experiencing what their classmates have appeared.

charcunning's profile pic

charcunning | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted on

There are a few things that I do to encourage participation. The first I call "Most Important Sentence"--for this, each student must write down what he/she considers the most important sentence of the poem, story, essay etc. They also must provide an explanation for WHY they feel it is the most important question.  Another way to do this is to have each student write their quote on one side of an index card and explanation on the other.

The second thing I do is write each student's name on an index card, and as I ask questions for the class discussion, I draw a card and that student has to respond. Once students become more comfortable, I find I don't need these any more.

Participation points are great as well, but I find they are hard to keep track of.

I also do Socratic Seminars. Basically you set up an inner circle and an outer circle of chairs. Students are to write two high-level discussion questions ( I teach them Bloom's Taxonomy) which they are to bring to class. The inner circle goes first taking turns asking questions and answering them. Points are given every time a student talks, each student is required to talk once (a complete answer or ask a question. Saying "yes" or "i agree" does not earn points!) During this time, the outer circle must remain silent and take notes on the inner circles conversation. After 20 minutes (depending on topic and group size) we switch circles and repeat! You, the teacher, are NOT ALLOWED TO TALK during the 40 minute session! I take notes and then we do a mini-class discussion on things I need to clarify for the students. This is such a wonderful tool for ALL types of reading and the kids LOVE IT!  Good luck!

tresvivace's profile pic

tresvivace | College Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

I also teach college, and we have been told that it is not enough to say "they're adults, and we should just let them fail."  Because retention is such a big issue, we are expected to make an effort to help students succeed.  This includes breaking complex assignments down into smaller parts.  But we are not supposed to "lower our standards."  I think you can see from these two ponits (help them, break things down, but don't lower standards) that we are walking a tightrope--it's a real balancing act.

I am lucky this semester--my students are wonderful, and they work together in groups very well.  However, I teach writing courses, and these are students in an art and design program.  So, no, they don't particularly want to write, but they want to do enough writing to get their BFA degree.  People are often surprised that the school even has English courses.

The original poster was asking about discussion groups, and I, too, find that small groups work best to facilitate the best discussions.  Often I will ask the small groups to report one example to the overall class.

Another technique that has worked well for me is to go around the room in a "Round Robin" style and ask each person for a brief example of something.  In a humanities class I taught, I asked each student to give an example of a question he or she might ask about our topic.  In my professional writing class, I might go around and ask each student to offer a good question to ask in an informational interview.  This structure approach to discussion works with quieter students because they have time to prepare and know they only have to offer one idea.

In many ways, college today is more like high school used to be!  Still, I love it.  (I also taught high school for many years.)

linda-allen's profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

They're college students taking a writing class but are reluctant to write? Unlike high school, they have to pay to be in your class. Why not appeal to the wallet?

I apologize for being so cynical, but come on. They're adults. They should be grateful that you are so interested in helping them. Most instructors would just let them fail. Have you had a serious talk with them about expectations and priorities?

jennifer-taubenheim's profile pic

jennifer-taubenheim | Middle School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

Class Participation

I teach Writing Across the Humanities to a class of very reticent college freshman. It's an intro to literature course. I am searching for strategies that will entice them to participate.  I have used literature circles, but I can't do that every week.  Does anyone have suggestions?

One thing that may work is to assign them to specific stories and have them write the discussion questions and lead the discussion for at least part of the time. Also, sometimes I will tell my students that it is up to them whether we have a written assignment or not. I am more intereted in a good discussion. If they ask and answer good questions (I define what I am looking for here), they will not have a written assignment. Stare at me blankly and they will. Most of the time the start participating. Or, if all else fails, give them a participation grade. It may feel like twisting their arms, but by the time students are in college they should realize that hiding in class and looking down every time the teacher has a question is not going to work.

lynn30k's profile pic

lynn30k | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

Maybe you could have groups of 2 or 3 students work together to present/teach something. If you give them some guidelines of what you want done and a rubric of what you will grade on, they would be forced to participate because they'd be teaching. This would work better if you are teaching short stories. And kids know how to do tech like powerpoint presentations, so they could get creative.

Unfortunately, classroom dynamics sometimes make it hard to get kids to speak up. It's almost as if they set a culture of it not being cool to speak up, and it can be really hard to speak up.

snoblitt's profile pic

snoblitt | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

I agree with #6.  I, too, conduct Socratic Seminars with my students as stated above.  This is an effective method for participation of all students.  Students have to discuss in order to get a grade.  My students love doing this because the discussions are student led as opposed to teacher led.

Another strategy I used with my students was to allow them to come up with the a writing assignment that they teach the class.  Students seem to enjoy experiencing what their classmates have appeared.

Socratic Seminar is really an excellent way to get participation. I have used it with 8 graders to adults. Its amazing how much more open students will be when they are leading the discussion rather than paying attention to what they think the teacher wants to hear.

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