Any Thoughts on This, Elizabeth? Teaching Students to Encourage Peers to Speak

Any Thoughts on This, Elizabeth? Teaching Students to Encourage Peers to Speak

Students bring varying experiences to topics as well as varying personalities and predispositions toward extroversion or introversion.

This can be seen in class discussion, where typically there is at least one very outspoken student who dominates the discussion and one other who barely participates. It is expected behavior, seen in all walks of life, that some people will talk more than others. However, in the classroom it is important for there to be more balance, with the talkative students sharing the floor with their less verbose peers.

There are several methods to achieve more balance and sharing of the floor:

8 Creative Ideas for Teaching Students to Encourage Peers to Speak

  1. 1

    Ask for Contributions from Students in General

    It is typical to begin a class discussion by asking for contributions from students in general, and this will often lead, depending on the topic, to some balance in the discussion. Other times, however, this will lead to the few more gregarious students dominating the discussion. Therefore some limitations or boundaries should be established at this point: e.g., “I thought we should begin with discussing the reading and then what applications we see to our own work, giving everyone a chance to speak…” This can signal the more dominant students not to try to take over the conversation in a kind of free-for-all.

  2. 2

    Ask for Students Who Haven’t Spoken Yet to Contribute

    This can be done by asking more generally “I’d like to hear from some new voices now,” or “Let’s hear from someone who hasn’t yet said anything.” This will then sometimes prompt the quiet students to speak up.

  3. 3

    Ask a More Talkative Peer to Share the Floor

    This can be done discretely without mentioning names (at least at first). If the more gregarious students are clustered near the front (as they often are), the instructor can say, “We haven’t heard from the back of the room yet. Let’s hear from someone there,” or from wherever the quieter students are congregated.

  4. 4

    Ask a Shier Student Directly to Contribute

    If quieter students are still not participating, then it may be time to ask directly “Claire, we haven’t heard from you yet. What are your thoughts on this?”

    Often Claire will only offer a short response of several words, but this is a starting place. You may then rephrase what she said: “So what I am hearing you say is…Is that true?” or elicit an elaboration, “Could you say more or that, give an example?” Both of these reflections will prompt Claire to speak more.

  5. 5

    Ask a Quieter Student to Respond to One of his Peer’s Comments

    This can be as simple as “Casey, can you give us your thoughts on what Gina is saying?” Sometimes students have to be forced out of their comfort zones for growth—ability to speak easily to public settings is something that students should leave college able to do, and asking a quieter student to simply comment on a point already made is a less threatening method to draw her into the conversation.

  6. 6

    Raise an Issue that Hasn’t Come Up; Ask One of the Quieter Students for a Response

    Once the more introverted students have gotten used to commenting on their peers’ positions, it is time for them to take a more leadership role. This may be done by bringing up an aspect of the topic that has not yet been addressed by the class—usually there is something left out—and asking the quieter students to comment on it. Quieter students are actually often more reflective and may have developed ideas on a point that the more extroverted have not considered.

  7. 7

    Begin with a Freewrite

    On that same consideration, that often the more introverted are also more reflective, the reason they speak less than other students is that they need more time to process before they express their viewpoints. This is actually a practice that can benefit the whole class—thinking before speaking, simply put. Allowing students some time to free write on the topic therefore would give everyone a chance to develop more quality comments on a discussion while creating equal opportunity for students who really need that time to participate well.

  8. 8

    Enlist the Help of a More Talkative Student in Getting Quieter Peers to Speak Up; Divide Students into Smaller Discussion Groups

    The whole-class forum is often not the best for discussion for a number of reasons: lack of comfort with speaking in front of groups and fewer opportunities to speak are two main disadvantages. Both can be addressed by dividing students into smaller groups for the discussion, trying to balance the groups by spreading the more talkative students throughout: they can take a leadership role in ensuring everyone in their group speaks. They are also less likely to dominate a smaller discussion group as the disparity to contributions will be glaringly obvious, and they are unlikely to bear the entire discussion for the whole discussion, as they will now no longer have the other few more gregarious class members sharing the load. Therefore, they are more likely take on a role of expecting and encouraging their quieter group members to help the discussion along. If they do not do this and continue to dominate even small discussions, the teacher can at that point intervene.

Encouraging the shier students to participate in class regularly is not easy. It is often asking them to go against lifelong habits and perhaps even an inherent personality type. However, by employing the strategies of gently persuading the quieter members to participate and offering opportunities to do so while subtly asking the more gregarious students to yield the floor occasionally, a more balanced group discussion with more students represented is possible.

What are your methods for encouraging quieter students to speak?

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