I Participation Strategies

These strategies support student participation in classroom discussion.

The tables below are from Williams and Clement (2015),1 which discusses about how these strategies fit into the framework. It also includes additional classroom examples.


Setting Up a Classroom Atmosphere for Students to Express their Thinking

  Strategy Example
1. Establish a safe environment

“I want everyone to know that ALL ideas on the topic are accepted and appreciated in this brainstorming discussion, so please feel free to bring up whatever you are thinking on this topic.”

2. Discuss Norms for Participating

"Each person is expected to:  contribute, listen to others, be respectful of others, ok to disagree respectfully, etc. As the teacher, I am not allowed to say whether ideas are correct or incorrect during a brainstorming session. In fact, many ideas can be partially correct, and those are valuable."

3. Staying Neutral (Defer Judgment)

Student: “I think that gravity is caused by the spinning of the Earth on its axis.”
Teacher: “I see what you're saying."

4. Withhold answers during open discussions

Student: “So Mr. Smith, why are the oceans where they are?”
Teacher: “Well, that is a question that we will discover the answers to through our discussions today.”

5. Appreciate student contributions

Student: “I think that lakes are where they are because low places on the planet got filled up with water from rain and then had no way to get out.”
Teacher: "That’s a really interesting idea, Stephen, thanks for sharing your thinking on that.”

6. Encourage Student to Student Talk ('Volleyball' as opposed to 'Ping Pong')

“So, Beth, it sounds like your claim is __X_____ and one piece of evidence is___Y___. But Scott has this other piece of evidence which conflicts with yours, so, talk to Scott about what you think of that?”


Getting Discussions Started

  Strategy Example
7. Raise a large, Essential Question for the unit

“So the big question for our unit this week is – why are the lakes, rivers and oceans of the World where they are on our planet?”

8. Raise a smaller Focusing Question of Interest for the discussion

"Somewhere I heard that there was once a lake that stretched from Northampton to Hadley, so that this school would be under water.  What could have caused that?"

9. Provide Wait Time

“What do you think about that?” (Silence)

10. If no response, adjust the question to make it easier

“So let me ask a different question. What determines the direction that a river flows in?”

11. Have Students Vote

“With a show of hands (or use a voting sheet), how many people think that the reaction taking place here is a double replacement reaction?  How many think it is single replacement?”

12. Think - Pair - Share

"Think about the question for 15 sec., then discuss with your partner.  (45 sec. later)  Ok, let's hear from different pairs."


Ask a Question that's

a. Thin: Low Cognitive Demand (for review) or

b. Thick: High Cognitive Demand (for discussion)


“What units do we measure force in?”


"How does oxygen get into the blood?"


Sustaining the Discussion

  Strategy Example
14. Probe

“Can you say more about that?”

15. Use a Reflective Toss by just repeating the student's last words

Teacher: "How might we find the best representative of three different measurements of the same thing?"

Student: "Average them."
Teacher: "Average them?....."

16. Clarify (paraphrase)

“So Greg, what I hear you saying is that heat has something to do with the motion of the molecules of water in our food dye demonstration?”

17. Mark as Important

Student: "Why don't the molecules slow down on their own?"
Teacher: "Mmm, Key question we need to think about."

18. Defer a Topic that may derail the discussion from your objective (put ideas on hold)

“I understand we could argue about the very best way to measure weight, but let's assume we're using this balance--we can come back to that issue later.”

19. Connect to Academic Language from students’ Everyday Language

Student: "In my house, I can feel that warm air is rising over a hot stove."
Teacher: "So what you are referring to here is convection, or movement of movement of thermal energy via currents."

20. No Hands Questioning

Teacher asks question, uses wait time, calls on random student (no hands)



For more on how the participation strategies support the rest of the framework, see these pages:

Educator's Tour - Level I
Introduction to the Full Theory


Articles, Papers and Websites

For further examples of how teachers use these strategies in the classroom, see:

Identifying multiple levels of discussion-based teaching strategies for constructing scientific models (Williams & Clement, 2015)

Using questioning to guide student thinking (Van Zee & Minstrell, 1997)

1 Table 4: Dialogical Strategies Used During Whole Class Discussion, from Williams & Clement (2015).