Guide to Participating in Class
Participating in class is one of the most essential learning experiences that every student will come across, but it can also be challenging for various reasons. This guide identifies common barriers when participating and provides strategies on how to overcome each one as well as general strategies to help you prepare before, during, and after class.
Common Barriers to Participation & Possible Strategies
- If you’re someone with a quiet personality or are not comfortable talking in front of people, it is a daunting task to talk in a room full of people even if the class is small. Before coming to class, make sure you come in prepared with the questions you want to ask, so you’re not on the spot to make something up.
- If you’re really nervous, it can be helpful to practice speaking in front of a mirror or recording yourself on your phone. You could try practicing on what you’re going to say and how you would like to present yourself in front of an audience. For example, if you’re recording yourself, there may be some things you want to adjust (e.g. your wording, how loud/quiet your voice is, etc.) and practice again; if you’re practicing in front of a mirror, you can get a sense of how you may appear to others at the moment. Just a reminder that your audience is your classmates and it’s totally okay to feel nervous; they most likely feel the same way too! It is worth noting that there are other ways to build confidence such as Speaking Fellows, talking to a classmate, preparing what you want to say, or going to office hours.
- When you participate at least once in class, it becomes easier each time you speak as you feel more familiar with it. Participation may not be a huge chunk of your grade in a course, but you can’t avoid it forever! When you go further into your major, classes tend to become smaller so you will most likely be in another discussion based course that you will have to take.
- It is also recommended to go to office hours, especially if you missed opportunities to participate. When you go to office hours, you can explain your style of participation and begin to develop a relationship with your professor. Once you feel more comfortable around them, it can become less difficult to speak in the classroom.
- It’s okay to make mistakes—remember that college is actually the perfect place to make mistakes. If you’re scared of being wrong, you can start by saying, “I’m not sure how to phrase this but…” and think out loud. If you’re confused, admit that you are and ask, “Could you explain that differently?”
- Unpolished thoughts are not any less important than complete ones - you’re making your own contribution and it’s a way to get more clarification/understanding of your thoughts as you listen from others.
- It is intimidating to hear others speak eloquently in class but just know that comes from experience and practice. As a student, there’s a reason why you’re here so don’t worry about sounding “smart.” Think of your participation/discussion as a conversation, making it casual and relatable.
- Be gentle with yourself by being uplifting. You can start by thinking “This class is supposed to help me learn,” “I am prepared because I did what was assigned,” “I don’t need to always have the right answer.”
- When thinking about the discussion as a conversation, you can also change your perspective in approaching the classroom. You can think of it as an opportunity to learn from others or as a way to challenge yourself in becoming a better speaker, stepping outside of your comfort zone, and learning how to effectively engage with rigorous material.
- There are times when you may not know what to say or someone may have already said what you wanted to say. If that’s the case, you can share a relevant story or opinion about the topic or refer to a section of a reading that intrigued you. Additionally, you can “piggyback” someone else’s response (i.e. building off of other’s thoughts), which is an easy way to start participating.