Participation and Self-Moderation Techniques

Encouraging students to develop skills at self-moderation can help them become better at participating in class and self-assessing whether they could participate more or become more cognizant of the space they’re taking up. Below are some common examples of techniques used to encourage student self-moderation. These techniques also help relieve the burden on faculty to call on students for their own participation.

The Token Metaphor

Share with the class the metaphor that every time they enter class, they are given 3 invisible tokens. Each time they speak (ask a question, offer an idea, etc.), they metaphorically hand over a token to the professor. Halfway through class, ask the students to consider:

  • How many tokens do I have left?
  • Did I use mine all up in the first half hour?
  • Do I have them all left?

*This exercise was introduced by Dr. Gada Mahrouse

Reflection Exercise: Student Participation Styles

Ask your students to reflect on and interrogate their own participation style. This exercise can help students understand their participation as a spectrum rather than a binary of participation and non-participation.

  • Individually, ask students to assign the following participation styles, ranging from “less often” to “more often,” based on their comfort with and practice of these techniques. Such as:
    • Asking questions;
    • Offering ideas;
    • Giving recommendations;
    • Listening;
    • Taking notes; and
    • Talking with peers during breaks about ideas in class.
  • Have students share their own participation spectrum in groups to discuss their different styles and how each of them might benefit or learn from their peers differently through those styles.
  • As a class, discuss how there are a variety of reasons why people choose or are more comfortable with certain participation styles (e.g. navigating experiences of oppression and harm in the classroom, being neurodivergent, having anxiety, or being tokenized).
  • Emphasize that the classroom can be a space where we choose to expand and try things out and that we are here to collectively learn with and from each other.
  • Ask students to try to challenge themselves by individually coming up with a participation goal for their semester.

Participation Self-Assessment

Another strategy that can be useful is participation self-assessment, where students grade themselves based on a participation rubric (sample) [PDF] that models and outlines different ways that participation may be assessed in a class. This exercise can be done at the start of term, at the mid-term, and at the end of term to help students track their own progress through their participation, and can also be used as a grading rubric for participation assessment in the course.

Facilitation Techniques


The following strategies can be used to encourage collective facilitation of class through co-creation and collective accountability.

Creating Over Criticizing

While students appreciate opportunities to apply critical thinking and analytic skills that they develop both inside and outside of the classroom, there are other approaches that can engage students in critical thinking beyond critique, such as creating or co-creating. For example, while we often state what we do not want in a classroom, society, or syllabus, we rarely ask what we do want. Creating and co-creating encourages students to think beyond the current circumstances and apply critical ideas in new ways. For example, ask students to outline the critique in a reading or class topic/discussion, then to envision a world where things have been transformed.

Classroom Agreement/Contract/Ground Rules/Rules of Engagement

At the start of the semester, collaborate to create a set of agreements for the course. This can be revisited and adapted on a monthly or bi-semester basis in response to the emergent needs of the classroom. Below is an example of how to organize this group activity:

  1. Separate students into groups for 10 minutes and ask the following:
    • How would you describe your ideal learning environment, group dynamic, and tone for the class.
    • What are 5 features that make this ideal environment possible?
  2. Translate those 5 features into 5 actionable items for our class agreement (e.g. feature = not judgement; action = we don’t make assumptions about a person if they share something that we disagree with or view as problematic).
  3. Invite the groups to share their actionable items with the class and to explain how these actions support their vision of the classroom. If similar items are introduced by multiple groups, have the other groups make suggestions for adjusting the language to ensure collective co-creation.
  4. If an idea is contested, first seek clarity from students to see if a compromise or middle ground can be easily achieved, or if contested ideas can exist simultaneously or in contradiction. If a resolution is not easily achieved, probe the underlying values of the proposed terms of agreement to find opportunities for reframing and revising.


Faculty can help facilitate class discussion by managing the flow of participation using the following techniques:

  1. Call on students who raise their hands with less frequency first to encourage new contributions to the discussion.
  2. In a large class, if many hands go up, say you will take comments from 3 people and invite those who have already spoken to lower their hands.
  3. Validate and invite the class to hear from others. Students who participate more regularly in class than others may do so out of a desire to be heard. Introducing self-reflection and self-moderation techniques can help students learn to improve the quality of their participation; however, managing participation from those who dominate class discussion is important for faculty.
    Some techniques include:
    • Allow the person to speak;
    • Validate what they have shared;
    • Say that you want to take note of this as you think it’s important;
    • Then shift towards saying you want to hear from others about the same topic at hand.
    • Either take a raised hand or call on a section of the class that has not yet participated;
  4. Focus on prioritizing hearing from others rather than shutting someone down.
    Facilitate non-verbal participation by:
    • Writing on the chalkboard/whiteboard;
    • Making comments or posing questions on online class platforms;
    • Using the chat feature for discussion in online classes;
    • Using a live/cloud-based collective shared document for in-class discussions;
    • Handing out question cards that students can pass to the front of the class;
    • Moving between full-class discussions and small groups/paired discussions;
    • Using polling or anonymous live feedback software in class.


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Better Practices in the Classroom by Natalie Kouri-Towe and Myloe Martel-Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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