Posted by: Emily | February 3, 2010

Making people talk in class

So I just can’t drone on and on without other people talking. I won’t do it. This stuff is really boring, I know, and I don’t want to stand up there listening to my voice for an hour. The class this morning was not interested in speaking at all. When I asked a easy-answer yes or no question, Do you guys have library barcodes? I was met with blank, open-mouthed stares. They wouldn’t even raise their hands.

Now, so much of how students interact with me depends on how they interact with each other in the disciplinary classroom. They’re going to chill with me for 75 out-of-context minutes; I can’t do much to affect the dynamics they’ve already established. Shrug. But here’s how I got them to talk: I made them write something down. The second slide on my powerpoint was just the sentence, Why are you here today? I took out my watch and said, You have one minute to write down an answer to that question. And then I asked for volunteers, and managed to cajole five of them into reading out loud.

I can’t say they were ever truly engaged, but at least I heard a little something. And since I said no repeats, I ended up with five articulated learning goals from a class that worked really hard to be totally silent. Not bad.



  1. Funny you should post on this today, as it showed up right above this post from a management professor at my college in which the author refers to a useful article about changing things up every 20 minutes or so in class.

  2. Hmm…I guess the tag isn’t supported in your comments. Here’s the URL to the blog post I was referring to:

  3. I should figure out how to support tag in my comments, prolly!

    But yes, that’s a great post. Usually I’m very let’s-chunk-this-up-into-two-parts, but this is a great idea, about breaking things up more, and trying more ways of getting students to talk. I ended up ending class early because it felt like tearing my own eyeballs out. But I guess I could tell really early that simply asking questions to the group didn’t work, but I just kept doing that, over and over again until we all felt kind of mad at each other. What was that thing about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? These other suggestions look like good alternative strategies.

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