Class Participation in TESOL: Overcoming Major Obstacles

Class Participation in TESOL Classroom Management Participation in the ESL classroom is indispensable for students to improve their English skills. By increasing student interaction during class you will encourage participation, and students will have a better chance to develop their language skills more successfully.

For most students, their English class is one of the few moments in the day, or the only time, when they have a chance to use their spoken English. If they do not participate, their oral skills fall behind and they lose confidence as time goes by instead of gaining it.   Telling students that participation is beneficial for their language development and improvement is often not enough to motivate them to participate.

SETTING THE SCENE – Class Participation in TESOL

Start out by making friendly eye-contact with all your students throughout each lesson. Try smiling at each one of them and learning all their names and the proper pronunciation of their names as well. One key to encouraging participation is to lower the language difficulty of the questions, as well as lowering the anxiety of answering questions. Provide as many opportunities as possible for students to interact with you throughout the lesson with questions, answers, comments or even body language at first (raising hands, or thumbs-up or down) if they agree or not. The more comfortable and risk-free the atmosphere of the class is, the more students will feel like participating.

OBSTACLES – Class Participation in TESOL


If a student is naturally shy or quiet, their personality might become an obstacle to their participation in class. If you notice this, or if the student lets you know that they are shy, strive to make them feel as confident as possible in class and at first only call on them if you are positive they know the right answer or if the question does not have a right / wrong answer.

Direct Methods

Students who are used to a direct method of instruction or lecturing – such as Direct Method, Grammar Translation Method or Audiolingualism – might also find participation in class more challenging than normal. Make sure you explain to these students – and all the class – the purpose and benefits of participating in class. Teaching English with communicative methods and activities (ei: role-playing) will certainly help students feel more comfortable and confident in class and thus improve their participation as well.

Participation involves more than just calling upon all the students in your class.  As teachers we must ask ourselves, “Do you interact with all the students in your classroom?” This question is important, and if you are not sure of the answer, try checking off students’ names on a class list or seating chart as you interact with them.  Tally the scores at the end of the day and see who and where the interaction is concentrated. Sometimes the way or the place where you stand to deliver a class also influences where your attention is focused. A simple way to prevent this problem is to move around the class as often as you can without being disruptive so that your attention is also focused on different areas of the classroom and therefore different students as well.

Overly Participative Students

Finally, sometimes ‘too much’ participation by a particular student or a couple of students can become an obstacle for the rest of the class because they expect these very eager students to give the answers first. A simple way to solve this obstacle is to call out the name of the person you would like to answer the question before asking it, or having a 3-interactions-maximum (or 4 or 5) rule per lesson. If these very eager students want to participate so much, they could ‘help’ quiet students by asking them to participate on their behalf so both students are participating in a way.

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