Mar 13
​Priming Students for Conversation

Getting students to speak up in class remains a challenge for me as an instructor. I know that active teaching and engaged learning includes generating lively discussions among the students, but it's still not easy for me to achieve.

blank page.jpgWhen I throw out a question to the students and get nothing back, it's like that feeling I have when I'm trying to write a report and feel stymied by the blank page. But after almost 14 years of teaching, I'm learning a few tricks for sparking discussion among students.

One of those tricks is a technology tool that I find very easy to use.

My Communication department colleague Kevin Boon introduced me to Mentimeter as a way to jumpstart a classroom discussion. It helps me avoid that dreaded “blank page" feeling when the students are looking at me but saying nothing.

Mentimeter is similar to Kahoot! but with some added features. I've used the 'rank order' option with good success and I know that the Word Cloud option works well, too. 

Regardless of the form you choose, the tool is low-stress and high-impact.

  • Create a question, for example, “What are the top five skills in order of importance that a candidate must demonstrate in a job interview?” or “What was the most important theme from today's assigned reading?”
  • The students respond by using their cell phones to access the Mentimeter site, enter the question code you've assigned, and key in their response(s).
  • The tool tracks their responses in live time, which you show on the classroom screen.

With the response data visible for everyone to see, the 'blank page' problem disappears and students respond to what they see on the screen rather than to the instructor. It's remarkable to me how that visual prompt fuels their willingness to speak up.

Roberta Anderson, in the Applied Computer Education department, recently used a similar approach to start a discussion about resumes, but her technique doesn't require Internet access. She asked students to pull out a piece of paper, she set the timer for 1 minute, and she asked students to jot down everything they knew about resumes. The result? Every student had something on their page to help them contribute to the classroom discussion.

What's your go-to technique for getting students to open up and contribute their thoughts and ideas to the classroom conversation?


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Photo by ASHLEY EDWARDS on Unsplash


When you use a flipped clas...

When you use a flipped classroom approach and ask students to prepare in advance for class discussions, it becomes easier to get them to contribute. For example, have students read an article or watch a video on the topic you want to discuss in class. Ask them to submit short responses to a few discussion questions in advance of class. This means everyone has had a chance to think about the topic before they get into your classroom. Good discussions result, and you can call on any student in the class by name and ask them to share their prepared responses or to share new thoughts and ideas.
Picture Placeholder: Gail Horvath
  • Gail Horvath
 on 3/13/2020 10:49 AM