How to ensure that every student participates in every lesson.

All students need to be treated equitably.


This emphatically does not mean that all students should be treated the same. But all students should feel that they are fairly treated in the classroom, and part of that is that they should all feel that the teacher is including them in the lesson.

There are some students who can go a whole day without being asked a single question in any lesson. They do this by employing twin strategies: a) they don’t put their hands up, and b) they don’t draw attention to themselves by any misbehaviour. Some of these children, knowing that they won’t be called upon, decide that there is no necessity for them to concentrate on what’s going on, and they can dismantle their pen, think about their new computer game or ponder their lunch choices instead. Unsurprisingly, they may then make ‘less than expected progress’ and everyone starts soul-searching abut why.

In your classroom it would be wise for students to assume that they will need to answer a question at some point in your class. If they do not expect to be asked a question, if they have grown accustomed to not being called upon, while a small cohort of keen and enthusiastic students handle all the questions, they may not bother to pay attention in the lessons that follow.


When you do not ask questions of some students in your class, you communicate that you do not expect that they will be able to answer your questions. This may or may not be your intention, but they will assume that you expect MORE of those few who do answer all the questions, whose hands are always up and who are always called upon to answer. They will then believe that those other students ARE more able than they are, and they will gradually lose interest.


Students develop confidence if they sense that you trust them to get the answer right, and this is compounded when they do get the answer right. In addition, making sure that everyone participates in every single lesson means that behaviour improves, as students understand that they need to be on task and ready to answer at all times.
There are several ways of ensuring that everyone participates:

EVERYONE answers the same question: This is a useful strategy for questions inviting open-ended answers, so that students can give an answer which accurately reflects their level of understanding. Making it clear that the selection of answerer will be random – rattling your trusty tub of named lolly sticks; putting up the random name generator wheel on the projector screen; or simply scanning the room wondering out loud who hasn’t been given the chance to contribute much yet –  clearly ask the question. Tell them no one will answer yet, and that you will give a specific length of ‘thinking time’ – 10 seconds, 30 seconds, a minute – during which time EVERYONE needs to come up with an answer. This is silent time for everyone. As you time the allotted moments, prompt anyone who looks as if they may be struggling and assist. At the end of the time, reinforce that you now need everyone to have an answer. Start off by asking a student, someone somewhere between the most keen and the least, to answer the question to set the scene, or go absolutely random if you think it appropriate, and then go from there. By the time the least confident students answer they have lots of ideas which they can draw together to reinforce their own ideas.

SIMPLE to COMPLEX: Once you have asked a question, give a short thinking time. Then start off by asking the simplest version of the question to reluctant students, and then continuing questioning, varying the level of difficulty, up to the most confident: this way the thinking time is extended for the keener students and everyone gets to show what they can do. In other words the students can all say at the end of your lesson “I can…” to an appropriate level.

MODELLING for assistance: This is good for repetitive questions, such as simple utterances in MFL. In this model, you ask the more confident learners first, and the others listen and use the first confident utterances to help frame their own responses. For instance the teacher may ask; “As-tu des freres ou des soeurs?” . There will be a range of answers, most starting “J’ai un/une…”. By the time the weakest student if required to answer, they will have heard some 28 variations on the theme, and should been able to formulate their own.


ENCOURAGEMENT to excel: Where appropriate, challenge answers to questions. Perhaps smile encouragingly and use silent hand gestures to elicit expanded answers or elaboration. Perhaps ask explicitly for more. Perhaps, where an atmosphere of trust has been created, encourage other learners to seek explanation or elaboration.


THE ABC OF QUESTIONING: Agree, Build, Challenge – where one student has offered an answer, another may be asked to agree with it and give their own ideas, build upon the answer to give some more points; or challenge it, disagreeing and giving reasons. This process can lead to excellent discussions, with normally reticent students producing gems.


RANDOM NAME SELECTION: I mentioned this earlier, but it deserves its own paragraph. Whether you use lolly sticks in a jar or a web-based application dressed up as a wheel of fortune or a typewriter, producing your random name generator as you set students off on a timed task is an excellent way of encouraging everyone to step up to the task they’ve been set. At the end of the allotted time, check everyone has finished preparing and then select randomly. you can remove the name once someone has responded, or leave them there. Either way, this genuinely random method ensures all work.


A word about hands-up: all of these methods work with or without hands-up. Hands-up has a place in every classroom and there are some students who really give the impression that they will explode if they are not called upon. They won’t, although in the worst case scenario you could turn them off. The truth is that those students will always do well as they are engaging themselves inn every aspect of every lesson. Those who don’t, possibly the ones whose names you find it a little more difficult to remember, are the ones who with a little more teacher forethought can be drawn into any lesson.


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