8 strategies to foster active participation in language classes

Students actively participating in the discussion during a language class

Whilst it’s vital that students understand the basics of grammar and vocabulary, the ultimate role of a language teacher is to build and nurture confident language users. Encouraging active participation and language production (in all forms) in lessons is clearly essential to achieving this goal. And in classrooms with a mix of language proficiency levels, that requires educators to deploy an empathetic and strategic approach.

This blog post explores how language educators can build their skills in these areas to increase student interaction during class and enhance learner engagement across all language skills. We’ll also identify some concrete strategies that educators can use to find success.


Why is in-class participation so important?

Active class participation holds a pivotal role in effective language learning, serving as a cornerstone to shape and inform students’ linguistic growth. Perhaps most importantly, stepping forward to contribute in class builds a sense of confidence in one’s language abilities. As students express their thoughts, engage in conversations and present their own ideas, they begin to realise the true extent of their linguistic skills. 

This newfound self-assurance can also be helpful in supporting those students suffering from language anxiety, who are hesitant to contribute or speak in public. Encouraging active participation in a supportive classroom environment helps students confront this anxiety, providing them with a secure space to practise, make mistakes and gradually build up their speaking skills. (If you’re looking for advice on how to create this kind of safe classroom environment, check out our blog post on the topic here “creating a safe speaking environment for confident speaking“.)

Participating in classroom activities (e.g discussions, debates and group projects) also provides students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in real-life language contexts. The practical application of learned vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation in these interactions builds understanding and makes the learning process / their progress more tangible.

Frequent, positive class participation also helps students to hone essential communication skills such as active listening, turn-taking and the art of articulating their thoughts fluently. Participation also naturally encourages collaboration among students. Whether engaging in group discussions or jointly presenting concepts, learners learn vital teamwork skills and appreciate how to patiently and politely exchange ideas and build upon each other’s thoughts. This collaborative atmosphere closely mirrors real-world language use, where interactions are often fast-moving and involve multiple participants.

Of course, these skills form the backbone of successful interactions in any language. Encouraging active participation and language production is one of the best ways to develop them!


Concrete strategies to encourage active participation in language classes

Having reiterated the importance of participation, let’s now look at some classroom strategies that will help educators to get students involved. They all aim to cater for students’ diverse needs and abilities, so we hope that you’ll give them a try in your classroom!

1. Use icebreakers and warm-up activities

The tone for every lesson is set at the very start  – get that right and you’re onto a winner. Quick, fun starter activities can therefore be hugely helpful in getting students ready to learn and ready to produce language. Something like an engaging “Two Truths and a Lie” activity related to the day’s lesson might work well. This not only creates a positive atmosphere, but also encourages students to share personal experiences, while practising the target language.

2. Try a variety of participation approaches

It’s unrealistic to expect all students to want to volunteer to demonstrate their fluency in front of the whole class. So build in different ways in which everyone can participate and get involved. For example, incorporate pair-sharing sessions following a reading task. Students can discuss their thoughts about the reading material with a partner before contributing to the larger group discussion. A whole class response technique also gets everyone involved as students respond simultaneously to the same questions. Teachers can also easily see who understands and who does not.

3. Questioning strategies

Utilise a “think-pair-share” approach here. Pose a thought-provoking question related to the lesson’s theme. First, students think about their response individually. Then, they discuss it with a partner before sharing it with the whole class. This gradual process of sharing can significantly boost students’ confidence and encourage them to get involved.

4. Utilise educational technology

Platforms like Sanako Connect are great for encouraging language production. For example, after the teacher has launched a listening activity, each student could then record a summary of what they heard and their feelings about key characters / themes. In this way, even shy speakers can contribute through speaking because technology can lower the barrier and often it is easier to speak using educational technology tools instead of speaking directly face-to-face with your peers.

5. Scaffold speaking tasks

It can be effective over time to gradually increase students’ exposure to participatory tasks. Most will engage with low-pressure speaking tasks, like having students introduce themselves in pairs. Particularly if the pairings have been sympathetically chosen. Students can then progress to short dialogues or scripted role-play activities. This steady increase in complexity allows hesitant students to develop and demonstrate their skills at their own pace.

6. Feedback and encouragement

After any language production task, provide personalised feedback that highlights the student’s areas of improvement and acknowledges their strengths. Always try to respond to every answer with a positive response, even if the answer is incorrect. Phrases like “Good try!”, “Nearly there”, “ Thank you for trying” are all great ways to build positive reinforcement. They also foster a sense of accomplishment and motivate students to keep participating.

7. Showcasing student work

One of the reasons why some students don’t participate in class or don’t produce language is that they don’t see the point or value in doing so. You can address this by creating a “Language Learning Showcase” wall where you display students’ well-crafted written pieces, role-play scripts or recorded verbal contributions. Celebrating their efforts publicly instils a sense of pride and reinforces the value of getting involved.

8. Reflect and adjust

Perhaps the best way to encourage students to participate more is to ask them how they’d like that to happen. Engage them in periodic class discussions about their comfort levels and preferences for participation. And based on that feedback, you can adapt your classroom strategies to better align with their needs and give them a stronger sense of ownership in their learning process.


How can Sanako help language teachers to help teachers to get students’ participating?

With customers in 114 countries and products in over 50,000 classrooms globally, Sanako has significant experience in supporting educators to engage their students in their learning. In fact, our solutions have been specifically developed to support language learners in this regard.

Our popular Sanako Connect web-platform, for example, is perfect for getting students to fully participate in speaking tasks. Educators can easily divide students into pairs or small groups for live conversation practice and role plays. This takes place in real-time, so each group of students can talk simultaneously without distracting each other or embarrassing themselves.

Educators can also use Connect to develop activities that improve students’ other language skills. It’s easy to use the platform to create and share tasks such as model imitation, oral assessments, online tests, or fill-in-the-blanks exercises.


If you’d like to find out more about how Sanako’s language teaching products could support your educators, please contact us now to arrange your FREE demo!

Call to action image with a button and a product screenshot