Questions in the classroom – Speaking Up in Class Part III

students participating in class

Now here are some tips for how to speak up in discussions.

Did you know a lot of a discussion is getting people on the same page? Often the bulk of an interaction in class is helping people align themselves with the topic at hand and arrive at a point where they can move forward together. Not everything that is said has to be new; clarifying and defining questions are essential to getting on the same page. If you find yourself confused, try asking “Could someone please summarize where we are right now? I do not think I am following.”

Your opinion is enough. You do not need to have a controversial opinion either. I disagree, or I agree with so-and-so is worth sharing and can even produce deeper discussion.

Preparation can get you 90% of the way. Write out your questions for the professor ahead of time based on your notes and reading of the previous materials. Most instructors ask if anyone has any questions, and this is your cue.
Distractions do not have to drag your mind away from the discussion. Write thoughts that come up, things you are worried about, and preoccupations on the other page of your notebook. Doing this before class (to help you remember and deal with them after class) will help you clear your mind and prepare for active listening.

Our passions get us talking. What is your passion? If you are not sure what you are passionate about, think about the thing that you can talk or read about for hours on end. Use this to your advantage and try to tie in your passion to whatever you are discussing in class. Maybe you create a metaphor that relates your passion to the lecture topic. This is a good way to contribute that authentically shares some of who you are with your classmates.

If social anxiety is a reality for you, try to see if you can create a Facebook group or use a tool (forums, email) through Sakai to participate in a digital discussion. For many people it is much easier to participate online than in person. Communicate with your instructor(s) via email about any questions you can as you will get your questions answered and the more you communicate in writing the easier it will be for the instructor to remember you when writing a recommendation down the line (searching e-mail is pretty easy, after all).

The stance you take can make you more confident. If you watch this TED talk ( you will know that you can take a posture of power and confidence and it will make you feel more confident. Spend a little time standing like wonder woman or superman before going into class. You might feel goofy at first, but it is worth a shot, right?

If you are interested in learning more about how discussion and dialogue can be transformative for everyone in class, I recommend learning more about Social Constructionism. If you are interested in reading about the ways shy, quiet, or introverted people are and the value they offer society, check out Susan Cain’s NYT Bestseller, “Quiet.”


Written by Nora Devlin, Academic Coach Spring 2016