Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The 21-fold path to expanding class participation

OK folks: Another installment of Michael's Gimmick-y but Seemingly Effective Ways to Expand Class Participation.

So here's the gimmick:

Students assemble in groups and you begin with some sort of content presentation (lecture, whatever). Each time a student participates her group gets a playing card. The aim is for the groups to build the best blackjack hand without going bust. I gave the group with the best hand at the end of the class meeting a prize (Dums-Dums!).

This seemed to work out OK. A larger number of students and groups participated than normal. I saw shy students make comments to more voluble ones and then the voluble ones raised their hands to speak on the group's behalf. Of course, some groups went bust and then continued to participate anyway.

Astute ISW readers will recognize this as a descendant of one of my cold calling methods. You could of course have a different prize (I don't do participation points, but that's another incentive) or you could make it an individual, rather than a group, game.

Do try it: Let me know if you think it helps get more students involved.


  1. I like it! I'm going to try this later this semester. It's in a class where I already use Monte Carlo quizzes, so my students might start to think I have a gambling problem. But hey, if it gets them to talk....

    Another idea for increasing class participation, which I got from Ben Hale (Colorado): Ask a question. Give students a few minutes to write down an answer on a separate piece of paper. Have them crumple up the paper and throw it to someone else. Have each student get ahold of a paper and open it up. Have some students share the answer on the paper they were thrown. I tried it today. It worked pretty well.

    Extremely astute ISW readers will recognize this as a variation on a technique I mentioned several years ago.

  2. Just a quick question: blackjack, of course, works with just two cards per hand. So if you have a group that has 3-4 cards, are you trying then to say put all the cards you have into a hand w/o going bust (so that if you have an ace and a jack, you would want to count that as 11 instead of 21, e.g.?). Or do you say pick the best two cards you have to put in a hand? Of course, that would mean no one would go bust, so I guess I'm just a bit confused on the mechanics of it!

    Once I understand it better, I'll give it a try!

  3. Christina,

    Standard blackjack rules: They can keep accumulating cards until they go bust. They can participate and keep taking 'hits', so long as they can stay <21.

  4. Michael: I thought at first this could end up working against the point, because it could encourage students NOT to contribute once they've got a good hand, and then what if it's just the ones who always contribute who spoke before filling out the hand, so quieter students don't then speak? But I see that it could work another way too, ensuring that those who speak a lot might then stop for a bit and give space for others to do so. An intriguing idea!

  5. I might have to try this. I wanted to say that I did try your "wait for three hands before calling on one" idea and It worked out great. It slows me down (something I REALLY need to work on), and gives people more time to think. And surprisingly, even though hands number 1 and 2 were almost always the same 2 people, hand #3 seemed to be a different person for every question! A student even told me she really liked the "three hand" rule after class and encouraged me to keep doing it.


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