It’s not always easy to get students to answer questions in drama class. Some students who are great performers avoid sharing their thoughts in an open discussion. Even when a participation mark is at stake, many students shy away from answering questions or speaking up in group discussions for a variety of reasons.
Some students are shy or introverted and find it easier to perform a character rather than answer a question “as themselves.” Some students enjoy studying drama but don’t like speaking in front of large groups. Some students think they’ll look foolish or stupid in front of their peers if they don’t know the answer to the question being asked. Some students are intimidated by the more outspoken or opinionated students and don’t feel like they can get a word in edgewise. And some students, for whatever reason, simply don’t want to participate.
However, it’s important for students to be given the opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions, as well as for them to actually speak up and join the conversation. Students need to feel that their contributions are valued, and hearing from different students is a great way for the class to consider new, creative ideas and points of view that they may not have thought of. This can lead to all sorts of interesting new scenes, improvisations, and playwriting adventures!
Here are five suggestions for encouraging your students to participate more fully in discussions and answer questions in class:
1. Rotate responses.
The simplest way to get responses from all your students is to just pick students to answer, rather than asking for volunteers or waiting for hands up. Let your students know that you will take volunteer responses, but you will also select students to answer if the same students keep raising their hands. This basically forces students to answer questions, but can stress some students out if they feel like they’re being put on the spot.
2. Treat it like a game.
This is a more fun version of the first suggestion. Have students sit or stand in a circle during the discussion. When you are looking for an answer, toss a ball or beanbag to a student. The student who catches the ball answers the question, then tosses it to another student who answers the next question, and so on. The rule is that each student has to pass the ball to a new student each time before it can go back to a student who has already answered.
3. Post a schedule.
Post a calendar on the wall and either assign students dates or let students sign up for dates. These dates are when students will be responsible for answering the questions in class. That way everyone will know when it’s their turn to answer questions, and they can prepare for it.
4. Try small group discussions.
Divide students into partners or small groups and have them discuss the topic. It may be less intimidating for some students than answering questions in front of the entire class. Visit each group to check in with them and see how the discussion is going. Have groups take notes on what was discussed, indicating each group member’s contribution. You may wish for students to report back on what they discussed, either by submitting the written notes or orally. If you choose for students to present orally, they will still be speaking in front of the class, but they’ll have some time to prepare their thoughts in advance. This will hopefully alleviate some stress.
5. Offer different methods of answering questions.
Some students are more successful responding in different ways than simply answering questions in class. If possible, try different methods of having students respond. Consider having students make brief voice or video recordings of themselves responding to your questions and submit them after class. This can be done using various smartphone apps, and gives students the opportunity to respond verbally – just in a different way. Written exit slips and reflections are always another option for students to answer your questions as well.Click here for a free printable tip sheet, as well as a selection of exit slip questions.
Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at www.kerryhishon.com.
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