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21 Strategies to Promote Student Engagement and Cultivate Classroom Equity (Tanner 2013)

  1. Wait time: this simple strategy gives students time to think and increases the number of students that verbally participate in class. After posing a challenge question take a sip of water, let the silence linger, count to 60 (it's amazing how long this minute feels). Let your students know you are happy to wait and you will be surprised to see the participation rise. 
  2. Allow students time to write: Offer quick writes, 1-minute papers, or just time to reflect on learning helps students process their thoughts. This is a scaffolding step to include in addition to wait time to capture students who need more time to think. 

  3. Think-Pair-Share: This is an incredible strategy for any class of any size and it only takes a few minutes. After posing a thought question or problem, give students a minute or two to think on their own, then have them pair with a student nearby and share thoughts. Have them identify points of agreement or misalignment. In some cases, this can lead to a large classroom discussion. This is the simplest strategy to increase classroom equity as a "Think-Pair-Share" provides students time to verbalize their thoughts, promotes comparison of ideas among peers, and boosts participation and collaboration rather than competition. 

  4. Do not try to do too much: Most faculty attempt to do it all and this will inevitably lead to instructor burnout and student confusion. Choose a few things to implement and intentionally integrate them. Determine which concepts or skills are most difficult to learn, and choose techniques that will address those needs instead of trying everything. 

  5. Hand raising: Be explicit about the use of hand raising in class and create class norms around its use. Ask students who have not participated to raise their hands only.

  6. Multiple hands, multiple voices:  To encourage the voice of more students in the class, wait for multiple hands and call on the third. In a large class, encourage a "one and done" policy where once a student offers an answer they are done for the day. Remember, questions are always encouraged! 

  7. Random calling: Use index cards or popsicle sticks to write students names (this is also a great trick to learn names) and cold-call on students. Make sure to establish expectations about the use of random calling and give students an opportunity to pass if they are uncomfortable. This keeps students on their toes and listening. Once a student has participated, put their name in a discard pile until next time. 

  8. Assign roles for groups: When creating group work, make sure to assign roles (e.g., reported, facilitator, time-keeper, note-taker, etc.). Rotate roles and base them on visible characteristics (e.g., length of hair) or "get-to-know-you" information (e.g., who woke up the earliest). This is a simple strategy to improve group work and create equitable opportunities in group dynamics. 

  9. Whip (around): In small classes (< 30) have everyone share out their thoughts in 30 seconds or less. 

  10. Monitor student participation: Track who is participating and intervene if the class is being dominated by a few students. Scaffold wait time, multiple hands, etc. to encourage non-participants to speak up. In larger classes with TAs, have the TAs monitor the participation and ask them to help facilitate this. In small classes, keep track mentally. 

  11. Learn student names: This has a big impact on students, make an effort. In large classes where is may not be possible to remember everyone (> 100) have access to students' names during class for random-calling or to identify students as they participate. 

  12. Integrate culturally diverse and relevant examples: Create moments in class that students can identify with. Make it as relatable as possible. 

  13. Work in stations or small groups: Make larger classes smaller by creating groups. See our section on group work for more details on how to do this. 

  14. Use varied active-learning strategies: The "best" way to teach equitably is by providing multiple experiences for student learning. This way there is no one way to learn and students will connect with different learning techniques. See our section on active-learning for more examples. 

  15. Be explicit about promoting access and inclusion for all students: Allow this conversation to thread the class. Tell students why you are making the choices you are making. Share the effects and outcomes. Include students in your thinking about classroom inclusion. 

  16. Ask open-ended questions: One way to quickly have students check out is to ask "Are there any questions?" and yet this question is asked all the time. Develop questions that trigger thought and disagreement, questions that have multiple answers, or questions that are yet to be answered in the field. Ask students for their opinion. 

  17. Do not judge responses: Remain neutral when listening to students. If they are expressing a misconception, thank them for their contribution, ask others to build on the idea or offer other suggestions, and return to the misconception thoughtfully. Never penalize a student for sharing an idea, even if it is inaccurate. 

  18. Use praise with caution: By exclaiming praise for one student's idea may discourage others from offering other points. Praise is good, but be thoughtful about when to offer it. 

  19. Establish classroom community norms: Consider building these with students, establish them early, and constantly remind students they exist. Common group norms include the following: “Everyone here has something to learn.” “Everyone here is expected to support their colleagues in identifying and clarifying their confusions.” “All ideas shared during class will be treated respectfully.” 

  20. Teach them from the moment they arrive: The first day of class is essential. Learning can happen in a variety of ways, and so modeling learning for them all the time will help them see how often they have a chance to learn. Teach them about the process of learning "metacognition", even if for 5 minutes. 

  21. Collect assessment evidence from every student, every class: This sounds laborious, but it is valuable and can be automated with technology quite easily. Ask students to complete pre-assignment assessments and ask them the same questions at the end of the class to assess differences or similarities in their learning. Build online quizzes and surveys for metacognition, participation, and concept check-ins. This is also a wonderful way to amplify critical content, increase formative assessments, and collect data for education research. 

    • References 

      • Tanner, Kimberly D. "Structure matters: Twenty-one teaching strategies to promote student engagement and cultivate classroom equity." CBE—Life Sciences Education 12.3 (2013): 322-331.