Speaking up in class can be extremely difficult, especially if it’s a part of your participation grade. If you go to a small liberal arts college like mine, small classes where all eyes are on you when you make a contribution are commonplace, and the pressure can be immense. Coming up with unique contributions can be an arduous task. Luckily, there are ways to increase the quality and and quantity of your contributions in a speaking and participation heavy class!
Come up with questions about the readings or content of the class ahead of time. Classes that have a heavy participation piece are often based upon readings. While dense reading can seem overwhelming at first, there is a huge opportunity to unpack these texts and ask questions about basically every piece of it. Many people dread the “What did the author mean by [insert line here]?” question, so try to come up with original questions that take things like historical context or the author’s previous works into account. If you have fundamental difficulty understanding the reading, making an effort to ask your professor for help can have a great benefit, which leads to the next point.
Go to your professor’s office hours. I outlined this in more detail in a previous blog post, but your professor can be an excellent resource, especially in a small, participation based class. If the participation is based on readings, don’t be afraid to bring your questions about the reading to your professor to unpack a dense and difficult text. Your professor’s insights might expand your horizons and improve your own contributions to the class, and your professor might be more encouraging of your class participation if they have heard your point of view during office hours.
Have discussions about the material outside of class. Okay, this can be a tough one to do. It’s difficult to get college students bring classwork into their personal lives. However, being mandated to participate in class about common material might make allies and friends out of your classmates. If participation is a big part of the class, you and your classmates will be in the same boat and you might want to create study groups and commiserate about your shared responsibility. This might lead to impromptu discussions about your readings and class material. My tip for you is to let these discussions happen. I promise they will help you in class.
Build on your classmates’ contributions. Responding to your classmates’ questions and contributions shows that you have not only synthesized the material, but you can also quickly synthesize others’ thoughts and feelings about the material. Having a conversation about the material in class is one of the best ways to really learn the material. This is especially helpful if you’ve already established a comfortable camaraderie with your classmates.
Join a public speaking oriented club. I might be a bit biased since I’m on my school’s debate team, but constantly practicing my speaking and argumentation skills has been a godsend for my participation abilities in class. Once public speaking and debate become a part of your life, presentation skills and class participation majorly increase, sometimes without you even noticing.