How to motivate students to speak up in the classroom

Sometimes in class, students do not feel comfortable enough to answer the teacher’s questions or speak up – even if they have interesting ideas to share. Fear of judgement or shyness often keeps knowledgeable students from engaging themselves in the classroom.

However, expanding their capacity to communicate and take risks academically is vital to a student’s success. And the key to it lies in the teacher. So how can you create a supportive classroom environment where they feel safe to do so?

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Why is it important for students to speak up in the classroom?

There are numerous benefits of getting students to talk in class. Let’s take a look at what these are…

Consolidates students’ learning

Speech is an essential tool for enhancing students’ learning, not just a way to transfer information between two people. Discussing topics in class helps students process the material through integration of information and has been found to solidify learning.

Keeps students engaged

Asking students to verbally participate in class keeps them engaged in what you’re saying. It essentially forces them to adapt to an active mode of learning, as answering questions and joining class discussions pushes students to think critically. Research has found that when students use an active method of learning, their academic performance significantly increases.

Allows students to find their own voice

Telling your students to voice their opinions, answers and questions aloud allows them to put together their thoughts and understanding of the material. This also helps them develop self-confidence, especially if they get an answer right or offer interesting perspectives.

Builds relationships between students

Engaging in classroom discussions helps students build connections with one another and strengthens the classroom community and culture. Moreover, students may offer new ideas or find alternative ways to explain a complicated concept to their peers, which enables greater learning.

How to motivate students to speak up in the classroom

While some students may find it challenging to speak up in class at first, it becomes much easier once the ball gets rolling. Here are some strategies you can adopt to encourage students to engage verbally in your classroom.

Teacher Characteristics

Recent research has found that the characteristics of teachers can affect whether students participate in class. If the teacher is supportive, understanding, and friendly, it can promote active student participation. Try to display affirmation and open-mindedness through nonverbal behaviour, such as giving smiles and nodding when responding to the answers your students give you.

Encourage a sense of belonging

Humans have an innate need to belong, which is intensified during adolescent years as this is the period where many try to figure themselves out on a personal and social level.

Therefore, promoting a sense of belonging in the classroom creates a shared identity between students, which allows them to feel valued and accepted by their teacher and peers. This ultimately means that you are creating a psychologically safe classroom for your students, where they will feel less afraid to speak up because they are worried about what others might think or say about them.

Use humour

Using humour, however left-field a strategy it may sound, has been found to improve teachers’ relatability. This matters because when teachers appear less intimidating, students feel more comfortable asking questions and sharing ideas in class.

However, make sure to use humour properly: inappropriate humour can harm student well-being, leading to fear, anxiety and even hostility in the classroom.

Final Thoughts

Speaking up in class can be intimidating, but it has too many benefits to miss out on: verbal engagement can enhance students’ social development and improve their learning. So, try employing some of the above strategies to create a responsive class, where students feel safe and part of a community. A classroom is always richest when all voices are heard.


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