Number. 26 © CDTL 2003
Class Participation: What if I have no questions?
Ms Chua Siew Beng
Human Resource Management Specialist, School of Business

“The human mind is our fundamental resource.”—John F. Kennedy

Increasingly, classes are being conducted in small groups where plenty of opportunities are presented for class participation. Like many students, you may think that class participation is just saying something when called upon or, simply “being there”. However, class participation is a process where students are encouraged to be actively engaged. Active class participation includes:

· asking questions;
· value-adding and providing new insights in the form of supporting arguments, personal views, opinions and experiences;
· clarifying materials presented; and
· exploring new perspectives.

In active class participation, you will need to exercise critical thinking that requires you to go beyond the basic recall of information. You need to “take in information, question it, and then use it to create new ideas, solve problems, make decisions, construct arguments, make plans, and refine your view of the world.”1 In contrast, to think critically on your own and keep everything to yourself is an example of passive class participation. Active class participation requires you to adopt an open mind and share what you think with your classmates.

The following table illustrates three examples of active class participation:

Situation Active Participation
The lecturer is lecturing on the importance of critical thinking.
  1. You consider what has been presented, and note:

    - issue(s) which you would like to clarify further
    - question(s) you would like to ask
    - experience(s)/knowledge you possess that support/disagree with the materials presented
    - your personal views on the topic of discussion
  2. You volunteer to share what you have noted with the class at the appropriate time.
The lecturer calls on you to respond to a question.
  1. You consider the question and:

    - share your answer(s)/viewpoints.
    - if you are unsure of what the question is asking for, seek clarifications.
    - even if you are unsure of the answer, you share what you think anyway so that your lecturer and classmates can help you to resolve your doubts.
  2. You are not afraid of giving the ‘wrong’ answers because active class participation does not require the ‘right’ answers, but the willingness to learn through sharing of information, views and thoughts.
The instructor invites anyone to contribute his views or opinions.
  1. You voluntarily share your views and opinions with the class. You offer your perspective to the issues and concerns raised by considering the:

    - ‘what ifs’
    - your prior experiences
    - knowledge acquired in previous lessons/courses/etc.
  2. You follow up on where your classmates have left off after he/she has spoken; you value-add, express your reservations/(dis)agreements with what has been presented, or ask questions.
  3. You seek more information or clarification by asking questions or sharing your views.

The above examples are not exhaustive, but are common occurrences showing that active class participation is more than asking questions! As you step into your next class, remember that active class participation is not beyond your means: your willingness to share your knowledge with others will certainly make a big difference to the quality of your learning experience.


  1. Carter, C.; Bishop, J.; & Kravits, S.L. (2002). Keys to Effective Learning (3rd ed.). Ch 4: ‘Critical and Creative Thinking’. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 94.
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