Tips for Increasing Student Participation

Shaping the Environment

  • Reserve a classroom that will accommodate the kind of participation you are planning; e.g., if you are teaching a discussion course, reserve a room with moveable chairs.
  • Starting on the first day, arrange the room in a way that encourages active engagement. 
  • Move the chairs back to their standard arrangement at the end of each class session.Make clear from the beginning that you expect students to participate.
  • Learn and use students’ names.


  • In a discussion course, assign to your students some of the responsibility for increasing participation by all.
  • Use a variety of teaching methods, including lectures, discussions, and small-group work.
  • Organize each class session to include opportunities throughout to ask and answer questions; prepare initial and follow-up questions ahead of time.
  • If grading student participation, plan to give students a preliminary participation grade, including a brief written evaluation of their performance.
  • Set aside time throughout the course to assess participation by administering midterm student evaluations and by taking and reviewing your own notes.

Listening and Responding

  • Use verbal and non-verbal cues to encourage participation; move around the room and make eye contact with all students, particularly those who tend to be quiet.
  • When asking questions, give students time to think before they respond.
  • Listen fully to your students’ questions and answers; avoid interrupting.
  • Provide specific, encouraging, varied responses.
  • Repeat student responses to summarize or clarify ideas.
  • Redirect comments and questions to other students.
  • Place the emphasis on student ideas.
  • Make a habit of asking students for informal feedback.
  • Ask colleagues to observe your class and make suggestions.
For further details, see Increasing Student Participation.

© 2009, The Teaching Center, Washington University in St. Louis