As a teacher, you know how important participation is in the ESL class. This blog shows some strategies that you can implement to foster participation.

Whole Class Response – Participation in the ESL Class

To involve all students at the same time, use a whole class response technique. Students can respond simultaneously to questions so teachers can see who understands and who does not.

Before a review session, students can make response cards with content-specific words on index cards. Students hold up the appropriate card in response to the teachers’ questions. Large pieces of paper can be used to record answers which will be held up for only the teacher to see.

For Yes / No questions, students can make a Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down sign.

Even though this technique does not help students improve their speaking skills, it helps them develop more confidence with the language and it encourages more interaction in class. Once this is achieved, tasks that involve more oral participation become easier.

Corners – Participation in the ESL Class

Mark corners of the classroom with signs that read “I agree”, “I don’t agree” and “I am not sure.” Then read out statements related to a topic that the class has been discussing or reading about. Ask students to move to the corner that represents their point of view and discuss their reasons with the rest of the students who go to the same corner.

If you want to make the activity very low-risk just walk around listening in on their conversations and not intervening with comments or follow-up questions. You could also ask the groups to present a summary of their discussion to the rest of the class and ensure a different student is in charge of doing this each time.

Follow up Questions – Participation in the ESL Class

After students answer a question in class, follow their answers with another question directed at another student. This continues the discussion and involves more students in the interaction, opening up a discussion that is more similar to real-life conversations. Some good follow-up questions are:

  •      Do you agree with X’s answer?
  •      Why do you think that is the answer, Y?
  •      Z, can you add anything to X’s answer?

Numbered Groups – Participation in the ESL Class

Allow small groups of students a short time to discuss possible answers to questions before calling on anyone to answer them.  Students prepare critical thinking answers in small groups.  The teacher assigns a number to each student in the group.

When time is up, the teacher asks for all the number 2’s to answer the question.  You can continue the process until you are satisfied with the completeness of the answer.

Student Readiness – Participation in the ESL Class

Invite ELLs to answer a question if you sense that they would like to try, but can’t bring themselves to put up their hand.  You can assist them by using visual aids to support their words, such as pointing to pictures, maps, or words on the board.

Give Credit for Trying – Participation in the ESL Class

Acknowledge all answers with a positive response, even if the answer is incorrect.  Try using;

  •      Good try!
  •      Almost!
  •      Thank you for trying!
  •      Not quite, but you’re thinking!
  •      That is an interesting way to look at it.
  •      Thanks for suggesting that.


 A Chance to Pass or Get Help – Participation in the ESL Class

Allow students to “pass” on a question, or to call on another student for assistance.  The student seeking assistance should paraphrase or repeat the information.

Repeat, Review, and Summarize – Participation in the ESL Class

Students need the repetition of content information.  While teaching, ask questions that require repeating, reviewing, and paraphrasing.

  •      So, what did we just cover?
  •      Who remembers the reasons for ________?
  •      Who can explain what we just saw?       

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Related Articles:

Class Participation in TESOL: Overcoming Major Obstacles

TESOL Classroom Management: Cooperative ESL Activities

Foster a Social Community in the Classroom

Teaching Multi-Level ESL Classes in Hong Kong

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