There seem to be those students in every classroom who either have their hand up the second you ask any question or who never even think to raise it. Maybe the later group of students is timid, take a while to think about their response and build their confidence to physically raise their hand, or simply don’t like or are scared to contribute.

Whatever the reason, it can be a struggle to get students to participate. Bring in the recent pandemic and switch to remote learning and as a teacher you may be having an even harder time figuring out how to get every student involved in their learning process. Continue reading to understand why some students don’t participate, as well as some tips for boosting student participation during remote learning.

Challenges of Getting Students to Participate

Educators understand that all students are different; they learn differently, think differently, and are even raised in different environments with different customs and beliefs. But as educators, we often don’t put much thought into student preference for how they participate. There are many students who want to share, just in a way other than raising their hand. Maybe we as adults can relate to some of these reasons, too.

Some students might be introverts and feel more comfortable speaking in front of just a few close friends instead of an entire class of their peers. Some students lack confidence in their answers and are scared of the embarrassment they might feel if they don’t answer correctly. There may be others who have had a bad experience raising their hand and responding incorrectly.

As students get older, there can even be a negative connotation to answering questions and appearing interested in the material at hand. For whatever the reason is that students don’t speak up, teachers should start thinking about other ways they can get them to respond in the way they feel most comfortable.

Tips for Boosting Student Participation During Remote Learning

Built-In Features

There are several things a teacher can do to help boost student participation during remote learning. If you are using Zoom as your primary platform for class, utilize the built-in features. Ask a question and use chat to get every student responding. You can change the privacy of chat to have students just answering to you or answering publicly so everyone can see. Using chat is a great way to have every student respond during class discussions.

Breakout Rooms

Breakout rooms are another way to get students talking. Some students feel intimidated by a large group, and breakout rooms can make them feel much more at ease. Decide how many students you want each breakout room to have; or pre-assign the breakout rooms so students know who to expect when they arrive.

In order to hold students accountable for breakout room discussions, have them respond to your question with a drawing or writing using their shared whiteboard. They can call you into the room when they are ready to show their work. If you want to take it a step further, quickly screenshot your students’ work, drag it to a Google slide, and share everyone’s responses when students return to the main room.


Another quick way to get students participating is by using their videos. Have them turn their video off if your statement is false and leave their video on if your statement is true. Students enjoy having the permission to turn their videos on and off, and you get the benefit of every student participating.

Popsicle Sticks

If you plan ahead to your next material pickup, you can create popsicle sticks with yes/no answers on them. Younger students and older students alike enjoy holding up their popsicle sticks to answer questions. Didn’t think ahead? Use the reaction (emoji) feature to have students respond to questions by selecting “yes”, “no”, “smiley face”, or “surprised face.” This is a simple way to hold students attention and make sure every student is contributing to the lesson at hand.

Preparing and Posting Questions

For upper elementary, middle, and high school students, preparing questions and posting them ahead of time can greatly increase participation. Students have the chance to put thought into their answers, build their confidence to respond, and come to class ready to be successful.

This can even work for students in lower elementary. Post a picture for your Kindergarten students and tell them to come to the morning meeting describing what they noticed; or have students make predictions on what their next unit will be about based on a few words or phrases you post. Just as adults like to know what their next meeting will entail, so do students. Take some time to set students up for success, and you will be surprised just how much more eager they are to join in on the discussion.

Getting students to participate in class can be a challenge even for the most experienced of teachers. Some students are timid, some lack confidence, and some simply don’t want to raise their hand. When students are learning remotely, it can be even harder to figure out ways to get them involved in virtual lessons. By using breakout rooms, chat, reactions, and/or planning ahead by letting students know the questions that will be asked that day, teachers can see more students participating on a daily basis. If every student participates, every student will know they have a voice. And that in itself will be the basis of their continued success.