How to Survive in Participation Classes
1) Always do the reading.
Make sure that you understand the reading (or at least significant sections of it) completely, so that you could talk about any part of it. I like to highlight or flag important passages that I think might be brought up in the discussion, or that I’d like to bring up myself. Make sure that you always have the reading with you, too, so you can draw from it in class.
2) Make yourself a note of things that you’d like to say.
This is a lot of effort, but it’s how I got through the first couple classes I was determined to participate in. If your mind goes completely blank when someone calls on you or when you’re supposed to contribute to the discussion, this is for you. Before class, take the time to write down a couple of things that you can say in a discussion. These can be about things you thought were interesting, a passage that relates to something that’s been brought up in class before, something you have a question about, anything you’d raise your hand to say. Write these down exactly as you’d say them, and be sure to do a couple in case one is taken by someone else or doesn’t really relate. When you get to class, you can start off the conversation with your comment or wait until a topic you’ve written down is brought up, and raise your hand to say it. It’s so much easier to share something that you’ve already written down instead of trying to come up with something off the top of your head. Just try not to look like you’re reading a prewritten response.
3) Try to comment first.
This way, you start off the class having participated and the rest of class will be less stressful for you. Plus, it’s much easier to introduce a topic yourself than to try to hurry and come up with what to say on an existing topic. You probably don’t want to be known as the kid who immediately raises their hand first every time (think young Hermione Granger), but starting off some of your classes by commenting first is a good approach.
4) Don’t be afraid to ask a question.
A good question will contribute to the discussion, and it’s often easier to ask a question than to comment otherwise. Just make sure that your questions are meaningful. Specifically reference the reading or something that has been discussed in class. Make sure that your question is open-ended and can spark a discussion; don’t ask one with a simple, factual answer. For example, a good question in a literary class might be “I’ve noticed that the author consistency uses (a certain motif), what do you think the significance of that is?”
5) Set yourself a goal and keep track.
In my class, my goal was set for me: I had to comment once a week, or at least every other class meeting. Now, I try to contribute at least once per day in most of my classes. Set a goal for yourself, whether it’s once per day or week or whatever. Now, set up some way to track your goal. At the top of my notes for the week, I’d draw a box, and I’d check it after I participated. This way, I could keep track of how often I commented and if I met my goal.
6) Reward yourself!
If commenting in class is really hard for you, you should reward yourself when you manage it. When my goal was to comment once a week, I picked a show that I really liked that came out with a new episode every week. I wouldn’t let myself watch the week’s episode until I had commented in class. It was seriously a great motivator. Is there something that you can use to motivate yourself?
7) Talk to your professor.
I really wish I had done this in my first class; it might have saved my grade. When I realized that my next class required participation, I went in and talked to my professor, explaining how difficult it was for me. He was very nice and understanding, and told me I wasn’t even the only person who had done that. He couldn’t waive the requirement, but he was very encouraging. He asked if it would be easier for me if he called on me instead of waiting for me to raise my hand myself. That thought scared me even more, but it might work for you, and you can see if you can arrange something like that with your professor. Whatever the case, letting your professor know what’s going on will only be helpful to you.
8) Know that literally no one is judging you.
Even if they are, they’ll forget about it quickly. I never walk out of class and think “wow, what Sam said today was so dumb.” I never even remember who said what five minutes after they said it in most cases. While your “dumb” (at least in your eyes) comment might stick in your head all day, remember that no one else even cares about it. No one is thinking about class after it’s over, let alone you specifically.