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4 Ways To Get Students Invested In Class Discussions

Class discussions are an incredibly important and useful activities that can make learning interesting and engaging. It’s important to get all of your students involved in a class discussion so that everyone can engage with the material and their peers, share different perspectives, build on each other’s ideas and have a deep and meaningful discussion that illuminates the subject.

But it can be difficult to get students invested in class discussions. They can be reluctant to contribute whether it’s because they’re unprepared, introverted, or just simply unengaged.

We’d like to help change that! It’s time to get students truly invested in class discussions. Here’s how you can do it.

1. Sharing the WHY.

Often we’re so ready to jump right into a class discussion that we forget one of the most important parts, student buy-in and their understanding of why they’re learning about the topic.

Students are driven and motivated just like the rest of us. We as people are curious and often wonder why it is we have to do something. So of course students will want to know why they’re learning what they’re learning.

Sharing the WHY gives students an opportunity to understand why what they’re learning is important and gives them context on how it relates to their life beyond school. This makes learning the subject more tangible and gets students more engaged in the topic.

Before any discussion, take 2 – 5 minutes to address the reason why it’s important to be discussing this subject or idea. Or give students that time to ask some questions in an inquiry-based learning style. This allows them to practice being curious and explore the topic from their own interest (also developing their ability to formulate questions).

“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” – Mark von Doren

2. Involve Students in the Process.

Getting students interested and part of the learning process isn’t hard. It just requires us to be open to listening them and hearing what they have to say. Which is usually a lot 🙂.

Doing this involves them in the process of their learning and gets them more engaged with the content than if they were to just passively listen. Stanford University describes it as active learning, where, “students engage with the material, participate in the class and collaborate with each other.”

It’s really easy to get them involved, here are some simple activities that will have them invested in the lesson and learning new content quickly:

  • Poll the class.

    • Make it a secret poll if necessary. Ask questions about the subject and see what students say about it. This can create instant connections to the topic for the student and gets them invested in a class discussion based on their opinion. Students can even respond with a quick thumbs up or thumbs down to answer!
  • Low-stakes writing activity.

    • We’ve already written about how a quick writing activity can help spark interesting dialogue for in-class discussions. Low-stakes writing gets students interacting with the topic and thinking more deeply about it. It can provide students with a jumping off point, a referral or even an idea generator. Which can make contributing to the discussion easier for introverted students.
  • Play some music.

    • This is a unique idea, but did you know that music has the ability to help build connections between people? In an article from Yes! Magazine, they refer to several studies that show the beneficial effects of music on how it can build trust, empathy and cooperation between people. Give every student a chance to share a song they like with the class and see if it sparks more communication in your class discussions.

There are endless activities that can get students more invested in participating and engaging in a class discussion. For more examples of activities that can prepare students for discussion, refer to this comprehensive list of discussion strategies, The Big List of Class Discussions, put together by Cult of Pedagogy.

3. Give Students Roles.

Giving students a role in class discussions gets them invested in the conversation. Whether the role is managing the discussion, embodying a character, or taking a stance, these all get students more involved and engaged in their learning.

This activity can be another example of student choice, or you can choose the role for your students. Whichever route you decide to take, when students are given more authority in steering the direction of the conversation they have a sense of ownership.

In an article from MindShift is an excerpt from Heather Wolpert-Gawron’s book, “Just Ask Us: Kids Speak Out On Student Engagement.” Heather shares several examples of research that point to the importance of giving students choice. Also saying that student choice, “builds ownership in the learning, allows students to display their learning in the way that they feel best represents their knowledge and enforces true differentiation.”

Another great example comes from teacher Carma Hobgood, who recently shared her thoughts in The Hechinger Report. After running an activity where students were given roles, she said, “I watched as students became fully invested in the scenario and accessed leadership potential they previously had not known existed.”

When you give students opportunities to take initiative, they run with it. They are more excited to participate, share their ideas and take part, guaranteeing a discussion that is more lively and meaningful.

4. Student Provocation.

Last but not least, student provocation.

Backed by thoughtful research and used time and time again in Timothy McCarthy’s Harvard classroom. A student provocation is an activity where students lead a class discussion. This can be done in many different ways, whether it’s presenting an idea or asking poignant questions. Whatever the student chooses to spark deep discussion on the topic, chapter or theory they’ve chosen/been given.

This activity does 3 important things.

  • It gives the student(s) the responsibility of becoming an expert on that specific topic. Timothy says in the video, “I always remind the students that they should be the most informed people in the class on that day.” They are taking an active part in their learning.
  • It gives the student(s) room to be creative and lead. They become more invested in the topic and how the class discussion goes/runs when they have choice in the way they want to run it.
  • They are invested in their learning without even thinking about it directly and they engage with their peers in a real and authentic way. They care.

Although this activity can be a bit scary for students who are not as comfortable participating in class discussions, Timothy has found that it often gets students out of their shell and more comfortable talking in future class discussions.

This activity is engaging, interesting and sets the stage for some seriously dedicated and interesting discussions that can be completely student-led.

The Outcomes.

With practice, variance in activity and continued application of class discussions students will become more comfortable and invested in in-class discussions.

To summarize, here are the highlights of how these suggestions and activities help get students more invested in class discussions and more importantly, in their own learning.

  • Giving students choice, opportunity to take initiative and be creative makes them more invested and engaged in their learning.
  • Students are more enthusiastic and actively participate in their learning = ideas are more ingrained and they are excited to learn.
  • Class discussions that are meaningful builds trust between peers and more open communication. 
  • Students are able to insert themselves into the class discussion and become active participants in their learning.

Want to Learn More?

Here are some other great references on student engagement and class discussions!

Or visit our ‘How it Works’ page to learn how Parlay can help you achieve more engaging class discussions.

How it Works