If you teach English at a public school in Japan, you know that not all students are eager to participate all the time. These easy to implement steps can encourage elementary students to participate more in your classes.

How can I get kids to participate more?

  • Encourage with praise - for all the students who try (even if they don't do so well) make sure you give them praise. Use words like "Nice!, Good job!, Well done!" with a thumbs up to praise a good effort.
  • Get to know your students - maybe not so easy if your Japanese isn't up to chit-chat level, but an easy way is just to use their names when you talk to them. If you can't remember, cheat! Get everyone to wear name-tags - it's really a good idea to do this as part of a 'self-introductions' lesson.
  • High fives - do high fives (also known as a high-touch in Japan, but why not teach them real English) with the students who put their hands up and volunteer or answer a question. If it's to ask questions of you, give them a high five and say "Good question! Thank you!".
  • Handshake - use a hand shake as an alternative to a high five.
  • Your signature - sometimes the students like to get your signature. You can set up a system where collecting your signature leads to some kind of prize. Or maybe just write good students name on the board and your signature is the prize at the end of the lesson.
  • Fun lessons - it's important to try to have fun in your lessons, for you and your students but it's equally important to make the "fun" age relevant. In elementary schools, the older students are becoming more self conscious and less enthusiastic so running around games or silly stuff may not work. Make sure each lesson fits each class's version of fun.

Even though some students just can't concentrate, I've noticed that a faster paced lesson can help a lot. Especially when it comes to drilling new words or phrases, standing at the front of the class you can see that some students still haven't got the pronunciation or whatever, and you want to drill a little longer. This is where many students will lose focus and stop participating. It ties in with the last point - fun lessons.

Rather than force yourself (and students) to keep drilling, change the activity. This is huge. You can keep drilling but if you make a new game of it then the students will refocus and you're back on track. Even those students who were falling asleep are now awake and ready to participate in the new activity.

How do you do it? Feel free to leave a comment below and add your own suggestion on how to encourage student participation.

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