I imagine we’ve all had classes in which one or two students dominate the room. Maybe they ask questions at every turn or monopolize discussions, not leaving room for others to speak. Making room for everyone in the classroom without alienating these students can be a difficult task. Here are some methods that can be used to keep a balanced classroom:
- Shake up the traditional classroom dynamic… by giving students opportunities to lead activities, take up homework or teach and present ideas. By interrupting the usual hierarchy, students who tend to take over the space might find new ways of participating. Other students can develop a sense of ownership and power in the space, making them more likely to engage.
- Make the classroom a safe space… so that all students feel comfortable participating. Be encouraging of questions and comments and thank students for their input. Model confidence even when you are challenged by a student; let students see that you are comfortable even when you make a mistake or don’t have an answer, and that they should be as well.
- Be specific when asking for participation. Frame your requests: “I want to hear ideas from three different people”; “I want someone in the back row to answer this question”; or “Let’s hear from someone we haven’t heard from yet today”.
- Use group-work/pair-work. Create tasks for small groups or pairs and structure activities to build space for each group member. Certain activities, such as chain stories, have this structure built in, and other activities can be organized to suit the purpose. In group discussions, students can take turns giving opinions on a topic, or asking and answering questions. Group tasks can include assigned roles, with different members of the group responsible for different portions of the task.
- Talk privately with a student… when necessary. Be straightforward but intentional with your language to ensure the student feels respected and appreciated. You might start the conversation with comments like: “I like that you ask questions”, “Your enthusiasm is great” or “I can tell you know a lot about this topic”. Give them options: “I want to have time to answer all of your questions, can you save them for the end of class?” or “Try writing down your questions and looking for answers in your textbook before asking me.” Use the perspective of a shared goal that can be achieved through teamwork: “Everyone needs practice – can you help by leaving time for others to talk, too?” or “Your ideas are really interesting, but the class needs more time to focus on ______, so help me stay on topic”.
These are the techniques that have brought me the most success. Have you found other things helpful? Let us know! That comments section is looking a lot like a whiteboard waiting for a brainstorm… 🙂