8 Ways to Encourage Classroom Participation in Middle School

Do you want encourage your middle school students to participate? These 10 tips work like a charm!

We know that class participation can accomplish many goals as an instructional strategy. In addition to engaging students, participation promotes speaking and listening skills, and can be utilized as a quick formative assessment tool.

The challenge is to get ALL kids to participate. Even the shy and anxious ones. As one articulate 10-year-old said to me, "If I speak up and say the wrong thing, they won't let me forget it for the REST of my life. It's a jungle out there."

It is indeed. So I'm going to share some "fresh ideas" for eliciting participation without kids having to worry about the "jungle."

I'm also linking with some awesome bloggers who are contributing their own "fresh ideas," along with a chance for you win a cool prize!

1. Create a Positive Classroom Environment

The starting point is to create a positive classroom environment. We know that kids have to feel safe and respected in order to learn. A little mindfulness in regard to relationship building can lead to a classroom in which it is okay to take risks. I wrote more about that here.
We can also employ a number of other creative techniques and teacher response strategies that can allow kids to save face and avoid embarrassment.

2. Brainwrite & Share

This is a nice change from brainstorming, in which students call out their ideas en masse. The problem with brainstorming is that a few ultra-assertive kids tend to take over. With brainwriting, every idea has an equal chance of being heard. 

Individuals have their own mini-brainstorm session and furiously write every idea that comes to mind. Sometimes we write on sticky notes and then plaster them all over the walls or on a chart for the class to discuss. 

It's low-risk sharing because no one knows who wrote which ideas. It's also equitable because it frees us from focusing on one person's idea.

3. Phone a Friend

Ask a student who answers incorrectly to "phone" a friend to answer. This gives
a student an extra chance to be correct, albeit indirectly. Then be sure to...

  • Choose Wisely 
Ask an easy question of someone who previously answered incorrectly. Pair this with "phone a friend," and you've given a student who could be feeling like a failure TWO chances to be correct. Bingo. He's got self-esteem for all the right reasons.

4. Mad Scientist Writing 

When I started using these strategies in my classroom, everybody began participating and classroom management got much easier! I use #3 the most, and the kids LOVE it! #classroomhack #teachingstrategies #middleschool #secondary #teachingtips #classroommanagement
My kids gave this idea the name Mad Scientist Writing, because that's what they feel like when they do it.

It works this way: Ask a question and have students answer fast and furiously on scrap paper. Quickly scan the answers as you go around the room. Sometimes I'll just go to one table or down one row and I'll choose one of the kids who got the answer right to share aloud. If I notice a struggling or shy student got the question right, I'll give them a subtle thumbs-up or a wink before calling on them. This little vote of confidence really bolsters their confidence before venturing into the jungle and sharing it aloud. 

5. Call Answers "Ideas"

If your question is interpretive, ask for an idea instead of an answer. This prevents kids from thinking there's only one answer, freeing them to share.

  • Think, Pair, Share and Its Variations
Think, Pair, Share is a useful collaboration strategy in which students work together to answer a question or complete a problem. It's very low risk, because kids get a chance to try their answer out before sharing. So it builds confidence, as well as problem-solving skills. I wrote about it more here.

Here are some variations on the classic model:

6. Think, Pair, Re-pair, Share

This is Think, Pair, Share with a twist. Instead of sharing right away, partners swap with a person in another group to gain a different perspective on the issue. The class can come together to share after the kids have had a chance to test their idea out safely with just one or two others.

7. Think, Pair, Write, Share

This variation has students thinking and pairing with another student. Then each one will spend a couple of minutes summarizing the other student's idea in writing. Students can then do a check-in with the other person to see if their partner has the gist of their idea down. When sharing, students will share their partner's idea, not their own.

8. The BEST Face-Saving Response Ever...

Simply respond: "A lot of people say that. Let's figure out why!"
This response validates the person sharing by making them see that they are in good company in not knowing the answer. It can also lead to a whole new set of discoveries that can be made by the class. 

If you have any great ideas, (and I'm sure you do!) please share! I'm always looking for more ways to get kids to participate!


  1. I like the twists you did on Think Pair Share. Phone a Friend is a great option too! Do you let them phone a friend before they have tried to answer?

    1. If they seem to be struggling even after some wait time, I ask them if they would prefer to phone a friend. Sometimes I let them "consult" with their phoned friend so they can answer as partners. I should have mentioned that! Thanks for the reminder, Amy! :)

  2. These are so clever and I love how you really take the students' feelings to heart. Phone a friend and calling answers "ideas" are such clever ways to help them save face. Thanks so much!

  3. Love how these build classroom community. They remind me of Responsive Classroom ideas.

  4. What great ideas! I really like the phone a friend option. It's a great way for students to hold each other accountable because if their friend doesn't know the answer they may be called on to help them.

  5. Building a positive community is what every teacher should strive for! Thank you!

  6. I love think-pair-share. I like to use it with Keagan strategies.

  7. Thank you for all the ideas! I'm going to try several of them.

  8. I am not sure what you mean about "Phone a Friend" and "Choose Wisely." Can you explain how the two of them work together? Also thanks for sharing these! Love adding ideas to my toolbox. Thanks!!