Refusing to Participate in Class: How to Handle It

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students refusing to participate

In almost every class, there are at least one or two students who are reluctant to participate in what’s going on. This is especially the case in mandatory language classes.

How can you handle it? Is there a way you can plan lessons that avoids this problem?

Keep on reading to find out all the details about it!

A Student Refusing to Participate in Class

A problem that teachers sometimes have is a student that just straight-up refuses to participate in class. I’ve taught in Korean universities for many years and have certainly had my fair share of these students over the years.

I know that it can even be worse when you teach kids, particularly middle school students who have a lot going on, inside their own heads, with their bodies, and socially. It’s tough!

“How can I get a student to participate if they refuse?”

Is it Because of Poor Language Skills?

Often, when students are refusing to participate in class, it’s because their language skills are far below that of their classmates. I try to coax them into the lesson in a variety of ways. First, I work to create lessons which are levelled to a certain degree. So, the higher level students can get be challenged and the lower level ones won’t be left in the dust.

This takes a bit of extra planning, and it doesn’t always work, especially if the spread of student abilities is particularly broad. However, it works a lot better than teaching to the middle.

Try Group Work

Having students work in groups can increase participation, since the work can be shared. One student’s knowledge gaps can be filled by a partner. Again, think about your groupings.

If one student barely knows the alphabet, he probably doesn’t want to do a think-pair-share with the girl who just moved back from the UK. While many activities are well-suited to mixed levels, there is an element of student’s pride at play.

Have a Talk with The Student

If the same student is refusing to participate in class over and over, talk to them. Find out how they are feeling. Get to know some of their interests and try to incorporate them into activities.

It can be difficult if you are teaching large classes and only see each group once or twice a week, but a little personal attention goes a long way.

Plan Engaging Lessons

I had some students at one school who were far below most of their classmates and just wanted to play games on their phones. So, I found a few PowerPoint games online which were modelled after some popular games. It helped get these students engaged in my classes.

Check out these lesson planning tips.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Anytime you are dealing with a difficult student, put yourself in their shoes and think about why they are acting a certain way. It probably isn’t just to disrupt class. It’s most likely because they feel shy about their English speaking ability!

I’ve certainly been there. I was in a Korea class that’s too difficult for me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to participate, it was that I was unable to do so.

Encourage Students to Speak in English, However They Can

Here are some tips for getting your students to speak in English:

Help with Classroom Management

Students refusing to participate in class is just one of the many problems that you can have. That’s why Jennifer Booker Smith and I wrote a book that will help you manage your classroom well and hopefully avoid these kinds of problems in the first place.

If you teach ESL to elementary schools students, this book is going to be pure gold for you and I’ll even make a personal guarantee: If you read the book and don’t end up with classes that are calmer, more productive, and less stressful, send me an email and I’ll refund your money.

You can get ESL Classroom Management Tips and Tricks: For Teachers of Students Ages 6-12 on Amazon in both print and digital formats. It’s going to make your elementary age classes better, guaranteed.

ESL classroom management

Have your Say about Encouraging Participation in your Classes!

How do you handle a student that doesn’t want to participate in you classes? Leave a comment below and let us know your ideas for this.

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