Academic journal article Education

Class Participation: Promoting In-Class Student Engagement

Academic journal article Education

Class Participation: Promoting In-Class Student Engagement

Article excerpt

Since antiquity educators have known that exchanges between teacher and student are important to learning. Recent interest in student engagement has encouraged professors to reflect on their classroom practices and, where needed, shift them toward providing students with greater involvement in the learning process (Axelson & Flick, 2011). As this call gets amplified, professors need to consider class participation techniques that engage all learners in the classroom--not just the few reliable students who dutifully raise their hands.

This paper offers a rationale for including more class participation techniques into faculty teaching practices and provides a description of several class participation techniques that may readily be incorporates into the classroom. The techniques described in this paper represent traditional approaches often seen in the college classroom (e.g., cold-calling) and alternative approaches that bring with them the opportunity to engage more students at once during class meetings (e.g., graffiti walls).

Class Participation's Relevance

Most professors value class participation. This is reflected in expectations for class participation seen in course syllabi (Bean & Peterson, 1998) and in numerous academic papers across disciplines on the subject. The appeal of class participation is in its value toward engaging students in their learning, holding students accountable for course work, and making class meeting time generally more enjoyable.

Student Engagement

There is growing consensus that optimal learning comes from active engagement with the material being taught (Prince, 2004). Designing course experiences and conducting class meetings in a manner that aims to ensure active participation and cognitive engagement of students is important. Findings from studies that have put students in active learning situations support the benefits of participatory engagement (Smith & Cardaciotto, 2011; Yoder & Hochevar, 2005).


Expecting class participation can address potential problems with students being unprepared for class (Jones, 2008). If students know there is a chance they will be asked to participate during class meetings they may be more inclined to prepare themselves to do so. In addition, including class participation on a course syllabus notifies students about what is valued in the class and it is likely that students motivated to do well will adjust their behavior to the expectation (Bean & Peterson, 1998).

More Enjoyable Classes

Studies on students' preferences for course attributes indicate students prefer classes that rely less on lecture and more on participatory engagement through class activities and related experiences (Beishline & Holmes, 1997; Boslow, Phelan, & Capoloslo, 2006; Levy & Peters, 2010). Lectures have their place in college teaching (Burgan, 2006). However, from the typical student's perspective, continual listening to lectures is simply unenjoyable.

Course enjoyment is not only for the student's benefit. Avoiding "the silence" and uncomfortable situation created when no students respond to questions is a strong motivator for professors to include techniques that invite student involvement (Boniecki & Moore, 2003).

Traditional Techniques to Promote Class Participation

Traditional class participation techniques are the go-to approaches used by most professors. These approaches do engage students in class participation; however, they are typically professor-centered and conducive to students assuming a passive role and a general reluctance to participate in class.


Initiate-Respond-Evaluate (I-R-E) or Initiation-Response-Feedback (I-R-F) is the most common strategy professors use to engage their students in participation (Cazden, 1988). It is a unique language pattern seen in educational settings (Mehan, 1979; Sinclaire & Coulthard, 1975). …

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