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Increasing Student Participation in the Classroom

Paul has spent many years teaching English as a foreign and second language. He has taught EFL in Taiwan and Thailand, and ESL in the U.S.

A Typical EFL Class in Thailand


Increasing Student Participation in The Classroom

Increasing student participation in the classroom is a big concern for most teachers. Student participation in class is especially important when teaching EFL and ESL listening and speaking courses. The more students practice speaking, the more progress they will make in improving their proficiency. What, then, inhibits many students from participating more in listening and speaking classes?

As a teacher, you undoubtedly notice that only a handful of usually the best students are willing to ask and answer questions in class. Getting any kind of meaningful participation from the majority of class members is like trying to pull teeth. Why? I strongly believe it is because the average student finds a rather dull and unexciting language class very boring. Students, therefore, are not motivated to even try. In today's age of the Internet in which young people are constantly being entertained by video games and social media interaction, students and many schools expect and even demand entertainment in the classroom from teachers.

Enjoyable Activities For Increasing Student Participation

It is necessary to create an enjoyable learning environment for children in the classroom. One of the ways to do this is by making all learning exercises a kind of game. If we can do this, students will enthusiastically participate in classroom discussions and exercises. In my EFL classes, I have increased classroom participation with the following activities:

1. Tossing a Cloth Ball as an Attention-Getter

In this activity, I use a softball-sized cloth ball as an effective tool for grabbing students' attention. For example, when we check homework or do listening exercises on the whiteboard, I will toss the ball into the class. The student who catches or touches the ball must then come to the board to answer a question. The reward for the student is that she now gets the chance to toss the ball back to her classmates. When I stopped bringing the ball to class, many students constantly asked me where the ball was. They missed it that much when I didn't use it in class!

2. Student Team Competition

I have found that students work better in groups or teams than individually. Many also enjoy team competition. Hence, when I am practicing or reviewing vocabulary and grammar introduced in lessons, I will play games like "Stop The Bus," "Jeopardy" or games where teams have five to seven minutes to write on the board the most adjectives, adverbs, or nouns they can think of. Many students especially like "Stop The Bus." In this vocabulary game, I usually present categories like countries, cities, sports, occupations, and food. Team members have to work together to think of words for all categories beginning with a certain letter presented by the teacher.

3. Student Individual Competition

Many students also enjoy individual competition in the classroom. I do this by lining up three to five students at the whiteboard and then giving them contests in taking dictation or unscrambling sentences. The student who answers the question correctly and the fastest wins a round and gets to stay at the board while the others sit down.

4. Role-Playing Story Dialogs

When I was teaching, our school used the Our Discovery Island series student book and workbook for all grade 1-6 EFL classes. An interesting serialized story in comic strip format is presented in each unit of the book. After students practice listening to and reciting the dialog in the story, they enjoy role-playing the dialog in class. Many students volunteer to do this in front of the classroom. The kids also have the latitude to move around the class during the role play.

5. Listening to Different Kinds of Music

All students enjoy listening to music. Music is an excellent means of learning vocabulary, correct intonation and internalizing grammatical patterns. Music also enables students to learn and experience emotions such as love, happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and disappointment. Besides, everyone enjoys getting up and dancing to music.

Benefits of Increasing Student Participation

Increasing student participation is beneficial to both students and teachers in the following ways:

1. Student-Centered Learning

In teacher-centered learning, it is all too common to see and hear a monotoned instructor lecturing in front of the class while most students are talking to other classmates, doing other subject homework, or sleeping. In student-centered learning, however, students who are coached by their teachers actively and enthusiastically participate in learning exercises.

2. Student Cooperation

When students are put into groups of mixed abilities and given a common task, cooperation is developed in the classroom. Stronger students willingly help weaker students, and everyone gains in either teaching or learning experiences.

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3. Student Creativity

With increased classroom participation, I have seen student creativity express itself in role-playing, problem-solving, and dance.

4. Student Motivation to Learn

When every student is participating in class, student motivation is higher and there is a more conducive atmosphere for teaching and learning.

5. Higher Test Scores

Students who constantly participate in classroom discussions and exercises generally score a lot higher than their non-participating classmates.

In any kind of classroom activity, one hundred percent student participation is necessary to ensure that there are successful teaching and learning. This is especially important in EFL and ESL exercises. One of the best ways of getting students to participate in class is through enjoyable game-like activities.

Increasing Student Participation in the Classroom

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on September 22, 2012:


Thanks for stopping by and the great comments. You know, when I throw the ball, I, too, have the problems of students dodging it and leaving it at their feet. Yes, forfeits for that occasion is very appropriate. Good luck in your teaching!

Richard J ONeill from Bangkok, Thailand on September 22, 2012:

Hey again, Paul.

Some really useful advice and tips here in this hub and i'm in agreement with all you have offered here, as I use all of those techniques myself.

I especially love using a ball to teach with, although the problem I sometimes have is students dodging the ball and then just leaving it on the ground at their feet! Easily solved though, because you can come up with all kinds of forfeits for that occasion!! :)

Good Job, Paul.

Peace and have a lovely day in Bangkok! Rainy season is here!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 20, 2012:


Thanks for reading, your great comments and sharing. I agree with you that it's a good idea not to highlight winners over losers when playing games.

livingabroad from Wales, UK on August 19, 2012:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for the information and tips here. As a teacher it's always good to hear others tried and tested methods, as teaching is a learning process in itself right? You make some great points about increased participation. It also empowers Ss and breeds confidence which can only be of benefit in the ESL classroom.

I currently have classes of young learners and am lucky enough to have an area where I can hide flashcards and other materials. Upon finding them the Ss complete a dialogue or any new vocabulary taught with a partner. A fun element incorporated into class really gets the new language to stick and young learners always enjoy games, as you know!

Competitive elements are great also however I think it's a good idea not to highlight winners over losers in class, making the activities for fun. I'd like a stab at answering ESLTeachersTales question too. To diffuse such situations I would ensure that a new student is getting involved and speaking every time the game changes, regardless of their ability! Then do choral repetition.

Great read. Up interesting and SHARING

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 19, 2012:

ESL Teachers Tales,

Thanks for reading and your great comments. If your books don't have more realistic extended dialogues available for adults, why don't you consider writing your own dialogues based on your students' interests? I did that in the past with great results. In my group competitions, I also make sure that I am putting the stronger and weaker students in the same group. By doing this, I have found that many of the stronger students really go out of their way to help and encourage weaker students.

ESLTeachersTales on August 19, 2012:

Thanks for sharing your participation strategies. I've put buying sort of tossing toy on my to-do list.

Another group activity which isn't competitive but tends to get everyone involved, and usually laughing, is to take a dialogue and have half the class be speaker A and half the class be speaker B. The amusement comes from everyone trying to synchronize.

I wish there were more realistic extended dialogues available for adults.

An extra inhibitor for adults is that they don't want to look foolish. Their school days, what they had of them, are behind them. They're not used to making mistakes. They're already competent in one language and in many areas of their lives and so having to do something that involves so many mistakes makes them more reluctant to exercise what they do know.

And a question: doesn't any sort of competition just highlight those students who also tend to answer questions asked to the whole group? What strategies do you use to defuse that?

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