Wednesday, April 23, 2014

7 Student Participation Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Teachers

Summer holidays.

We're all longing for them.

Some of us are mentally there already.

So, how can we overcome inevitable student apathy at this time of year?

Here are some quick hacks to increasing student participation in your lessons...

#1 Make Learning Intentions Clear and Relevant

Students are much more likely to actively participate when the context of learning is relevant.  Reinforce what students will gain from successfully completing your lesson.

For example, when learning about time in First Grade, I encourage students to think about occasions when it is necessary to be able to tell the time.  They inevitably generate a huge list of situations relevant to their lives such as; play dates, church services, birthday parties, watching movies at the cinema, catching a bus or train etc.

#2 Increase Wait Time 

On average, teachers tend to wait only one or two seconds before answering their own questions (Clarke, 2005). This, coupled with rapid answers from fast thinking students, can be very demotivating.

Introduce a "thinking time" visual clue for younger learners (e.g. a sand timer) and make it explicit that answers will not be sought until that period of time is over.

#3 No Hands Up! 

A lot of classrooms have a cluster of students that regularly put their hands up whilst others are happy to sit back and let their classmates do all of the work. Implementing "no hands up" with increased wait time, can dramatically increase student participation since students will be very much aware that they might be expected to contribute.

There are a variety of fun ways you can randomly select students including names on lolly (popsicle) sticks, spin the bottle etc.

#4 Pair/Share

Given the opportunity to share ideas, students are a lot happier to discuss their thinking with the class.  In the early years, time will have to be spent on explaining "partner voices" as well as basic talking and listening skills (e.g. actively listening and looking at your partner when talking).

#5 Encourage Questioning 

Invite expert visitors to your class, or have students "hot seat" (take the role of an expert character) to encourage active talking and listening.  In the early years focus on forming who/what/when/where/why questions.

#6 Plan Collaborative Lessons

Carefully planned collaborative lessons involve allocating responsibilities to individual students and holding them accountable within their grouping.  If you are working in the early years you may wish to begin with simple partner work.

An example could be the creation of a 4 seasons poster.  Each student within a group of 4 would be allocated a season to research.  Students could then share their findings and discuss and create a "jigsaw" style poster (consisting of 4 jigsaw pieces) which showcases each of the 4 seasons.

#7 Introduce Choice

Research has consistently shown that introducing choice increases student engagement levels as well as their ability to think deeply and creatively.

If you wish to assess your students understanding of a chapter of text, you could provide them with a variety of choices to demonstrate their learning, for example; create a slide show explaining the key points, write a newspaper article detailing the "news" revealed in the text or work in a small group to "act out" the main event/idea.


Enjoy these last few months with your classes.  Take heart, summer is almost upon us. Remember that, as an educator, you are all kinds of awesome.

OkinawanGirl is a Scottish primary school teacher who has taught in the UK, Japan and Spain.  She has trained preschool teachers and developed curriculum for students whom speak English as an additional language.  You can help prepare your students for your end of year vocabulary assessments by downloading her free Dolch Sight Word Game available by subscribing to her blog.

- photos from pixabay
- research cited by Shirley Clarke
- quotation image from


  1. This is just what I needed! Thanks for the refreshers. :)

    1. Thank you very much Susan!

      I'm really pleased you found this post helpful.

      Warm Wishes,

      OkinawanGirl Lisa

  2. Love this post! Great ideas that can be implemented right away. Thank you! I'm pinning it now! :)

  3. Heather,

    Thank you so much!

    I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and for pinning this too ;-)

    Warm wishes,

    OkinawanGirl Lisa