Why you should participate in class discussions

Why you should participate in class discussions

Why you should participate in class discussions


Graphic photo of students in a classroom and a student raising hand

Learning is a two-way street. While the teacher has the responsibility to impart knowledge on the student, the student must also be receptive and engage the teacher for better understanding.

But after 13 years of traditional schooling — sitting at your desk, eyes forward, paying attention to the teacher — it can be easy to form the habit of passive learning. By the time students are in college, they may still feel that they should only do as their instructors say.

But in the spirit of a university, which is meant to be a community of scholars, open discussions in the classrooms are essential. Active participation in the classroom — whether in-person or online — provides a number of benefits that will improve the overall learning experience.

Photo of students raising their hand during lecture

Ninety minutes of instructional time is a lot to take in, and the lessons can go by so quickly that students miss some key points. Whenever there is doubt, raise your hand and ask the professor to clarify.


“The biggest thing you miss [from not participating] is the chance to get your questions answered when they occur to you,” University of Guam President Thomas Krise says.

The act of asking a question, even a simple one, makes it easier to ask more questions later because it breaks the ice between the student and the rest of the class. Krise says that the longer students hold onto their questions, the harder it gets to ask them at all.


Evelyn Flores, professor of English and CHamoru studies, encourages her students to voice their thoughts because it helps them measure and nurture their knowledge.


“I tell my students that as long as we’re all seriously engaged and reading the material under discussion, there’s no such thing as a dumb question or a trivial remark,” she says. 

Photo of a girl who looks confident alongside with a classmate smiling

The fear of asking an uninteresting or irrelevant question is not uncommon, yet having the courage to speak up is essential in the learning process. 


One way to build the confidence to speak in class is to simply support your other classmates, Krise says. 

“You might make it a point to say, ‘I had the same question,’ when another student asks a question,” he says. “That will get your voice in the room, and you’ll make that other student feel less self-conscious about asking the question.”


Students who take initiative to ask a question are also helping others in class who have the same question but are too shy to speak. And it will be a confidence boost for the whole classroom, creating an environment in which they feel comfortable participating in the future.


“The environment we must make is one where students feel they can share and give comments in class. They empower each other by having open and safe discussions,” Professor of Sociology Kirk Johnson says.

Photo of a teacher writing something on a white board

When being receptive to the learning material, students are helping professors determine what teaching methods work.


“There is huge benefit in sitting at the feet of our masters — but there’s even greater benefit as we engage with those masters and develop our courage to speak out, test the resonance of our voices, and develop our thinking and our identities in the process,” Flores says.


From student participation, educators have incorporated into their teaching styles better ways for students to interact with one other. This is seen in classes where students break into small groups to discuss reading material or when they give class presentations so everyone is heard.

Photo of two female students smiling while working with each other

The professor isn’t the only one who teaches in class.


“Students will learn more from each other than the professor,” Johnson says. 

In a room filled with diverse cultural experiences, students learn beyond the curriculum when they take part in class discussions. They are sharing and hearing first-hand accounts of the learning materials being applied in real life. This is an aspect of learning that professors cannot provide on their own.


“Without students engaging class discussions, you’re left sitting and listening to the teacher, who, ultimately, is just one experience out of a classroom of 20 or 30 people,” Johnson says.


Interactive discussions can also lead to opportunities beyond the classroom. Johnson and his students developed the idea of compiling class research into a book, which is now a consistent part of Johnson’s teaching. His students can refer to themselves as published authors and reference their own material all because it was brought up in class.

Photo of attentive students

The habit of attending a class only to listen without responding derives from the instructional format of primary and secondary education, where only the teacher can have imparting knowledge. It’s time to break away from that mold, Johnson says. He says this method of telling students to sit still and be quiet has affected the psyche of learning and has made them feel that their thoughts are not valid. That is why it is all the more important for students at the university level to speak up.


Flores puts it simply: “There are too many forces in the world against thinking — wanting citizenry who will just sit down, stop thinking, and shut up. An educated citizenry is the vanguard for good government because they’ve been taught to listen, think, and speak up.”