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Class participation

In my country, students
learn one way: from teach- You have just finished a lengthy explana- Instructors can make erroneous assumptions
er to student tion of a key concept and ask the inevita- when students dont ask questions or speak in
ble, Does anyone have any ques- class.
Korean undergraduate stu-
dent (Eberly Center for tions? only to be met with the They could assume that students understand
Teaching Excellence, n.d., p. 7). equally inevitable reply of dead
material which they really do not.
They might also assume that students are not
Looking at an assessment, you
paying attention, or they may interpret the
Sometimes students discover that students did not
silence as a form of disrespect.
from China or other understand a critical piece of the
Asian countries look content, but those same students For international students, a lack of class par-
quiet in class. But this never raised their hands during class to ticipation might stem from cultural, linguistic,
does not mean they lose ask for clarification. or individual sources.
concentration. On the
contrary, keeping quiet
is a way to show respect
to the lecturer and is
highly valued in China,
Chinese undergraduate
student (Eberly Center for
Teaching Excellence, n.d., p.
Culture and participation

A quiet classroom is a respect- ing opinions can be seen as who, like me, doesnt know
I am an enthusiastic ful classroom in many parts of wasting the time of the in- the material yet (personal
student and want to the world. structor and others in the class. communication, 2008).
participate in the class- Speaking out in class can high- As a student once explained, Sometimes even when stu-
room. During my first light the individual and for I am in this class to learn dents come from a culture in
month here, I have students from a collectivist
been rather frustrated what the professor has to which class participation is
culture, that is inappropriate teach me. Why do students appropriate, the rules may be
to find myself sitting in
(Shapiro, Farrelly, and Toma, need to share their opinions in different.
class with my hand
2014). class? The professor is the
permanently up[i]t
has seemed like the Related to this is the feeling one who knows [the infor-
teachers do not see that that asking questions or offer- mation]. I want to learn from
it is my turn to speak him, not from another student

British student (Gebhard,

2010, p. 39).

Newsletter created by: Danielle Bergez, Academic Liaison for International Student Support,

Language and participation

Even native speakers sometimes need time to Well, I still dont speak very much in class. It is hopeless. One reason is
formulate their thoughts, especially when con- because every time I get some ideas, I am anxious about using correct Eng-
tent is new. lish, so I tend to rehearse my lines in my mind first to make sure I use correct
For non-native speakers, this is even more words and grammar. Whenever I am ready to raise my hand, I find the cruel
significant. Sometimes class discussions can be fact that the subject of discussion has moved to the next one
a blend of informal, conversational language --Taiwanese student (Gebhard, 2010, p. 53).
with discipline-specific jargon.
Non-native speakers often need time to pro-
cess what has been said and also time to for-
mulate a response.

Individual personality and participation

Language and culture aside, ultimately students

are individuals. Regardless of their country of When I do speak, it is obvious that I am nervous, and one thing that bothers
origin, students bring their own unique personali- me a lot is about my physical reaction to nervousness. Whenever I speak in the
ty to the classroom. class, I tend to blush quite easily. My classmates told me that I sometimes even
have some rash on my neck. I feel embarrassed when others can see I am nerv-
Like native speakers, some students are simply ous. So, this makes me more anxious about speaking
less talkative or confident than others. --Taiwanese student (Gebhard, 2010, p. 53-54).

It could be that for some students, the combina-

tion of individual personality traits with culture,
language, or both, makes class participation a
significant challenge.

Suggestions to encourage participation

Ask students to share their experi- When asking a question in class, write down two questions they
ences with you. What were their require the entire class to write have about the material so far.
classroom participation experiences down their reply before you call on Then call on students to ask one
in their home countries? How did individuals. This forces all stu- of their questions.
they find clarification when they dents to take a moment to think
End the class 15 minutes early
didnt understand part of the class? before answering, and gives a non-
and ask the students to each write
native speaker time to process lan-
Discuss what you consider to be down one anonymous question
guage and content. they have about the class meeting.
active participation, why you con-
sider it important, and how it may Instead of relying on students to It could be related to content, an
impact students grades. Make sure ask questions mid-lecture, pause at assignments instructions, or any-
this information is also in writing some point and ask all students to thing at all. Then collect them and
in the syllabus. briefly go over the answers.


Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence Carnegie Mellon University (n.d.). Recognizing and addressing cultural variations in th e classroom. Retrieved from http://

Gebhard, J.G. (2010). What do international students think and feel? Adapting to U.S. College Life and Culture. Ann Arbor, MI : The University of Michigan Press

Shapiro, S., Farrelly, R., and Toma, Z. (2014). Fostering international student success in higher education. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association.

Newsletter created by: Danielle Bergez, Academic Liaison for International Student Support,