“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” - Chinese Proverb
Improving class participation can be a struggle. I've noticed over the years that every class has a different personality as a whole. This quarter, I've got the zombies. They look like live students, but they stare straight ahead and don't make a peep when I ask a question. Even in group work, they are reserved with each other and prefer individual work.
However, one of the largest factors affecting class participation is the instructor, even with the zombies. Here is a list of some tips that will encourage more involvement from students in class:
Learn the names of your students so they feel recognized and are less likely to fall through the cracks the first or second day of class. Ask questions directed at students by name. Not only will they feel recognized, but the fear factor of getting caught unaware my encourage them to participate sooner, when they know an answer, before you call on them.
Respond to student answers with respect, positivity, and encouragement through your body language as well as your words. If the students hasn't hit on the point I think is the best answer, I often say something like "In addition to Ashley's answer, consider....." or "Another point you want to think about is...." That way, you are not negating the student's answer, but still making your point.
Allow various forms of participation from students. Some may prefer writing questions and responses on notecards before sharing a response. Others would participate more in small group or paired discussions rather than with the whole class.
Set the chairs in a semicircle or around a large table to encourage discussion.
From day one, let students know that participation is expected and required (possibly for a grade). Structure your lessons around discussions.
Lastly, don't be afraid of the awkward silence. With my quiet classes, I used to fill in the gaps by answering the questions rather than lingering in the awkwardness. Now, I just wait. Sometimes I will rephrase the question or call on someone by name, but usually, someone speaks up. Don't let the students get used to you always saving the moment, or they won't feel as motivated to participate.