Book Review: Total Participation Techniques

by Deana Swanson


Book Review: Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner by Persida Himmele & William Himmele

One of my goals this year was to involve my students in my lessons and learning as much as I possibly could. This book is full of practical suggestions on how to get students more active and involved in class. I found it to be extremely helpful and full of ideas that are easy to implement in many different situations and for multiple ages of students.

Some ideas were simple, such as to have a group answer at the count of three, or to walk around the room while students are working on individual answers and encouraging them to write on a deeper level. While others were more complex, such as having student interviews and presentations, almost all of them are practical for classroom use in most situations.

Before any of these will work well, the authors point out that having a classroom culture where students feel safe enough to participate without being ridiculed by other classmates will really help these suggestions work better. Also, making constant assessments so that we as teachers can observe growth, and validating students to build their confidence, making them more likely to share and participate in the future, can greatly help the process of involving students in our lessons.

I appreciated the variety of techniques presented as it gives me more “tools in my toolbox” that I can use while teaching my students. The authors encourage teachers to try to use one of these or something similar every ten minutes. That’s a tall order, but anything we add, even if it’s small, will help us to grow as teachers. Here are listed a few of these participation techniques with a brief description of each.

  • 3 Sentence Wrap up In only three sentences, summarize what was just learned. To involve more students, call on three different students to each give one sentence each.
  • Higher Level Thinking Ask questions that will cause students to analyze and synthesize information rather than just repeat what was taught. Have several students give their answers or have a class discussion.
  • Pause to Apply After asking a question, give students time to process the question, apply it to what they just learned, and give an answer. Often jotting down a few notes can help them do this.
  • Validate Students Encouraging students with appropriate earned praise (if they’ve truly earned it) is a way to build trust between students and the teacher, and will result in more participation by students in the future.
  • Rankings Have students jot down the three most important aspects of the lesson and rank them in order of importance.
  • Pair students in groups of 2-4 and have them discuss the content, and then appoint one student to give a summary for the group.
  • Quick Write After giving students a prompt, allow two to three minutes for them to quickly write down an answer or their thoughts. Take turns sharing and discussing these.
  • Partner Interview Assign partners and then give students a few minutes to interview each other on the material being studied.
  • Hand Motions or Charades These can be used individually for vocabulary words in any subject. Groups can act out words, and the class can guess which word they are attempting to present.
  • Cut and Paste Even older students enjoy cutting and pasting, matching words and definitions, pictures, or concepts learned in class.
  • Graphic Organizers These are great for writing assignments and many are available for free on the internet.
  • Picture Notes Draw pictures and use arrows for motion. Students will remember concepts much better if they use hand motions or draw concepts rather than just writing down the words.

I found Total Participation Techniques to be a very helpful resource because it describes many ways to get students involved in class, and it gives practical examples on ways to carry these out in a classroom situation. Involving our students more in our classes and having them participate directly in what we are studying not only creates a better learning environment, but it also increases student retention and understanding of material.

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CONTRIBUTOR: Deana Swanson

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