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by Erica Fischer on Mar 17, 2016

How to “Up” Student Participation in the WL Classroom!

Last week, #langchat contributors were excited for a topic that everyone was eager to tackle – student participation in the World Language classroom! Langchatters joined in to discuss the finer points of how to encourage, track and assess participation, including things like defining what participation looks like, ways to support hesitant learners, strategies for helping students when they’re having an “off” day, and lots more.

We want to say thank you to everyone who joined in a great hour of #langchat, and also thank our committed team of moderators who spend a lot of time prepping and leading these conversations every week. John (@CadenaSensei) captained the Thursday chat, and Colleen (@CoLeeSensei) headlined our #SaturdaySequel.

Question 1: What does active participation look & sound like in your World Language classroom?

Participants shared many fun adjectives and descriptions for the current “feel” of participation in their World Language Classrooms. Responses ranged from “noisy” and “controlled chaos”, to “student centered” and “lots of movement”. Langchatters acknowledged that while participation looks different at varied proficiency levels, at its core, participation happens when students are fully engaged and are actively (and appropriately) giving back to the class in the TL. Whether that’s answering questions, joining in stories, reading in the TL, offering suggestions, singing songs, etc., any action that involves a student engaging in the lesson in an active way, counts as “participation”.

As the discussion continued, chatters definitions for what “ideal” student participation looks like were varied, but all seemed to boil down to a few main themes of students demonstrating engagement, comprehension, and interest in the subject material in accordance to their proficiency level. @ProfeCochran put it well when she said, “‘Participation’ looks like discovery, kids trying out new words with their actions…w/ peers, not with me.” Similarly, @senoraCMT said, “Participation is [students] feeling like they are using and understanding language that is valuable to them! #engaged.” @learnsafari summed it up when they said, “[Participation] looks like kids that are alert, and voices chattering with no English. The more [TL] heard, the more on track we are.”

And as @justsara75 so aptly stated, sometimes “participation” at its most basic form simply means that students are, “Looking at me, not sleeping, maybe smiling.” Teachers are all well aware that students can have “those days” where all they can give in class are the basics, and as long as they are giving something, that’s ok!

Question 2: What strategies do you use to encourage student participation?

Langchatters shared lots of great strategies for ways to help students feel comfortable when participating in class. Several posited simple (yet effective) ideas such as personalization and positive reinforcement so that students will want to talk about themselves, and feel supported enough to do it in the TL. @sralil summarized the general consensus when she stated, “[I] can’t emphasize enough the importance of building [a] supportive environment for risk taking so [as] to build [student] participation.”

Participants proposed the use of several hands-on strategies to up students’ participation. Suggestions ranged from utilizing story telling and creating language puzzles, to forming small groups for playing games and increasing the relevancy of the subject matter to students’ interest. Many chatters agreed that targeting your language goals to students’ interests is one of the best ways to get them to participate. By meeting students where they are and scaffolding the material, chatters fell that teachers can really help students to move forward in their proficiency, and in turn, up their participation.

While some contributors were advocates of using a grading scale for participation with their higher-level classes, others felt that grading participation often gets tricky, as it’s a fairly subjective process. Their answer was to focus more on proficiency and individual use of language instead of a number grade in order to help student’s build the desire to participate. @OMS_Pacheco summed it up best when saying, “Create an environment where they feel safe to answer and not afraid to make a mistake. Positive feedback helps.”

Question 3: How do you deal with students who are having a bad or “off” day?

Responses for how to deal with student’s who are having “off” days varied widely as so much of what determines a response to this type of issue depends greatly on each teacher’s personal philosophy, and individual teaching style. Many chatters shared various takes on leaving those students be or having them “sit this one out”. @MundodePepita summed up the feeling behind this kind of method when they said, “[Just] be the person who smiles at them, shows them they matter, [that] they are valued.” Proponents of this tactic were in support of letting those students know that you’d like them to pay attention, but that they are also “okayed” to just observe and then engage, if/when, they’re ready to.

@SraStilson shared a healthy perspective when she said it calls for teachers to give “grace” to students in this type of situation. She also said, “It happens to students & to me. Give a little leeway (not to be rude) & expect things to get better tomorrow.” Chatters agreed that it really boils down to knowing your individual students, reading each of them when those situations arise, and then doing your best to support them through it. Sometimes students just need space and compassion, and as teachers, you can usually tell when one of them is having an off day as opposed to being lazy.

On that note, it is a good idea to feel out each situation, so that you can judge when you are able to encourage students to push through the “off-ness” and grow from the adversity. Sometimes students just need a moment to be human. Because more often than not, as @MrMOREHEAD proposed, all it takes is “Empathy. Compassion. [Give them] a few minutes to process or decompress [and] they’re back in the game and ready to rumble.”

Question 4: How can we support hesitant learners who need extra encouragement to successfully participate in a task?

The bulk of langchatters seemed to agree that one of the best ways to help hesitant learners is to proactively create a class culture that makes students comfortable with participation from Day 1. By facilitating an atmosphere where they feel supported, you build up trust and let students know that they will always get positive reinforcement for trying, and constructive criticism to help them improve. As @DChrisopoulos so aptly said, it all boils down to “Giving [students] a safe environment and letting them know it’s ok to make mistakes. It’s part of the learning process.”

Suggestions for specific support strategies included designing participation activities to play to student’s individual strengths whenever possible, utilizing small groups or partner activities to make their “audience” smaller, or even something as simple as asking your more confident students to answer questions before you address them so that they have a chance to hear you encourage others first. Another suggestion was to make time for 1-on-1 interactions with reluctant students while other students practice in pairs, as it can lower the pressure of peer judgment for students who really struggle with their own image.

Other suggested techniques included scaffolding material, differentiation, and once again, making the content relevant to students’ interests so that they feel like they have something to offer. @sarah_e_moore gave a good plug for this practice when she said, “Every student is uniquely gifted. [Students] who are hesitant to participate have important things to offer too!” And @StratfordFrench added to this perspective by saying that teachers should try to give students, “Lots of opportunities to shine in different ways. Everybody is good at some part of language learning!”

Question 5: How do we convince students to associate active participation in the WL classroom with success?</h2

Participants had a lot of great tactics to share when it came time to talk about convincing students that in order to truly succeed at learning a language in a classroom setting, they have to actively participate. Several chatters advocated for the use of metaphors to depict the need to be hands on in language learning as it can give students something they are able relate to and understand. @VTracy7 said that she, “Tell[s] students they can’t be anthropologists who observe and document. They gotta get in there and take the language for a spin.” And @MundodePepita advocated for the use of sports analogies saying, “I [tell] my students – if you sit on the sidelines at practice, will you get better at playing? Nope.” And it’s the same with learning a new language!

Some chatters were proponents of structuring tasks and class time in such a way that the biggest contribution to students’ success is their participation in the planned activities. Other participants felt that simply having engaging material planned and ready to go will do the work of “convincing” students for you because if they are engaged, then they will see the value of participation for themselves and want to contribute. Like @grantboulanger said, “[It] feels good when you’re understanding and are understood. [Positive] emotion breeds joy. Joy breeds desire to improve.”


Last week, Langchatters contributed a bevy of ideas on how teachers can encourage, track, and assess student participation in their World Language classrooms. There were great suggestions ranging from applicable, hands-on tactics to resetting your personal philosophy on dealing with “bad” days, and even ways to restructure the flow of your class to help students build the desire to contribute and try new things. Takeaways included suggestions like it’s never too late to change things up if it will benefit your students, and not to take it personally when students have “off” days. And as @OMS_Pacheco so simply put it, the final takeaway from this hour of #langchat was that “Participation is NOT a ‘one size fits all’.”

So be encouraged to figure out what works best for you and your students when it comes to participation (whether that looks completely different from everyone else or not), and then – don’t be afraid to go for it!

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined in #langchat and shared their ideas for how to up students’ active participation in class. We hope that you continue to join #langchat whenever you are able – if the regular chat time on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET doesn’t work for you, try joining the #SaturdaySequel, every Saturday at 10 a.m. ET instead!

Due to space limitations, this summary focuses on the main themes and takeaways from this week’s conversation, and many tweets had to be omitted. To read the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have an topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

One comment

  • This is the right webpage for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You know a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really would want to…HaHa). You definitely put a fresh spin on a subject that’s been written about for years.
    Wonderful stuff, just great!

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