Tips for Creating a Participatory Classroom Environment

All too often students shuffle into class, take notes while the professor lectures for 50 minutes or so, and then pack up and leave. Rinse and repeat throughout the semester. Some might never raise their hand, offer their opinion, or even learn the name of the person sitting in front of them.

Yet active learning, while not exactly new, might be reaching its tipping point. The movement is fueled by interest from faculty looking for a more interactive and engaging classroom than the one they probably experienced when they were students, as well as mounting evidence explaining how incorporating active learning exercises into a course helps students understand the course material, and maintain their interest and attentiveness during class periods.

In Ten Ways to Actively Engage Your Students, Alice Cassidy, PhD, principal of In View Education and Professional Development, shared many of the techniques she has used in her 15 years of teaching at the University of British Columbia.

Here are just five of the ten activities Cassidy discussed during the seminar:

Get to know your students. Icebreakers and energizers help set the tone for the semester by creating a welcoming and collaborative spirit in the classroom. Ask students to share something unique about themselves or play “human Bingo” by creating Bingo cards that feature attributes such as “fluent in two languages” or “loves to ski.” Students then need to speak with others in the room in order to fill in their cards. The first one to get Bingo wins.

Invite students to start some of the classes. Here the activity could range from a short, five-minute presentation on how the material in one course relates to the material in another course the student is taking, or longer 15-minute mini-lessons on a specific topic.

Find out “What’s news?” Create more immediacy and relevance to course material by designing in-class activities that ask students to connect current events to course material. Controversial issues are particularly good at kick starting a conversation.

Ask for a ticket to class. To help ensure students do the assigned reading, give them three sheets of colored paper or index cards each with a different question on the reading. Students must bring the cards to the following class as their “ticket” to get in, and you can use what they’ve written on the cards to help guide that day’s discussion.

Build feedback into your course. Feedback can occur between teacher and student, and student to student. For example, after a group assignment, ask students to do a self-assessment on how well they performed the task, and assess how the group performed as a whole. Assign a one-minute paper in which you ask, “What is one thing you learned in class today?” or “What is one topic discussed today you would like to explore in more detail?” Or you could do a muddiest point paper and ask “What was the least clear part of today’s class?”