It’s boring only hearing from the same few students! – Encouraging Oral Participation

It’s boring only hearing from the same few students! – Encouraging Oral Participation

Recently, a colleague observed my grammar class. The 30 learners are B2-C1 level and the class is required for their degree programme (English Studies). I usually set up my gramamr classes so that the activities build on each other to move from re-capping basic points to more advanced fineties of certain structures, so we discuss answers to exercises together to check everyone has understood before we move forward.

Usually, I do think-pair-share, or check answers in plenum. But often only a few students volunteer to share their answers with the class and I end up trying to coax the others into speaking.

I’d never really noticed before, but my colleague pointed out that I often say “It’s boring only hearing from the same few students!” He suggested that this might make those who volunteer to contribute feel that they are boring or should not put their hands up so often: the opposite effect of what I’m trying to achieve. And so I am trying to think of new things to say, of new ways to encourage the others to share their answers. 

So far, I’ve tried “Let’s hear from someone new” and things like “Let’s hear from someone in the back row”. I sometimes also call on individual students, but I often have the feeling that they don’t like being put on the spot like that…

And so this blog post is rather a plea – please help! What else can I say or do to encourage other students to volunteer to share their answers in plenum?? Please write your suggestions below!!


8 thoughts on “It’s boring only hearing from the same few students! – Encouraging Oral Participation

  1. Hi Clare! Happy Christmas!

    I’ve used a variety of nominating techniques in my classes for a long time now, all based on the notion that a wrong idea is as important as a correct one. Some of my colleagues always use peer nomination, however I only use this initially, and when I feel the need to make a point of the students’ ownership of the classroom and learning process. The rest of the time I choose, not on the basis of who has the right answer, but to share out the answers evenly among the class, encourage weaker or more nervous students, and use this open-class feedback as a way to develop discussion about the answers in the class. It can even be done drawing lotts if you want to add a frisson of excitement to a lesson(!) My main aim here is to encourage discussion and reduce students’ fear of saying something “stupid” or not knowing, and making all the learners in the class teachers through peer discussion of answers, generating a virtuous circle of engagement. Building understanding through this technique works even with my elementary and beginner students, and creates much more enthusiasm for discussing answers and questioning them, rather than suffering in silence! Well, I hope that doesn’t seem too much like teaching granny to suck eggs! 🙂

    Have a good holiday! X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment and ideas, Adam! I like the point about ownership of learning! Will definitely start to preach that more openly when I’m back in the classroom next week! Clare 🙂


  2. What about…I have a fondness for giving ss tokens to ‘spend’…to ensure they all participate once at least. Be sure to tell them they can all participate as many times as they like but they all need to say something at least once. Or twice…depending on how long the class is…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Genevieve! We have tried the tokens approach, but I think the problem is that we honestly don’t always have time to hear from everyone, and also students ended up saying pointless things because they knew they were expected to speak, but didn’t really add anything to the feedback. Some of them also complained that it was too childish (I teach at a university)…. I guess we’ll never please every one!


  4. Hi, Clare,

    Sorry I’m late. Traffic coming up the A9 was horrendous!

    Anyway, how much luck are you now having with this issue? If you’re still after suggestions, you could try

    I. Asking ss to nominate each other

    II. Selecting ss randomly by drawing names from a tin (favoured method of some UK teachers)

    III. Ranking them according to how much they’ve contributed (scoresheet on the board or in clear view, perhaps)

    IV Positive encouragement like “I’d love to hear a wider range of ideas” or “This could get really interesting if we got a few more ideas from everyone”

    V GIve them a short questionnaire whenever there’s time to get one done:

    What topics do they feel knowledgeable about? What do they enjoy talking about? Why is it important for them to speak in class? What is difficult or off-putting about speaking in class?

    Their answers may help you find a solution, or they might discuss their responses together (you hiding in a cupboard or somewhere so timid ss don’t clam up) and figure out a solution for themselves.


  5. Hi Robert! Thanks for your ideas. It’s the semester break now, so I’ll have to wait til next term to try them out.
    I already do number IV, which sometimes helps. A colleague tried something like II but students found it a bit childish (we’re at uni). Maybe I and definitely V will help in future! Will let you know!

    Liked by 1 person

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