Hack Learning

5 Ways to Get 100 Percent Participation in Every Class

twitter in the classroom

Photo Credit: Kathy Cassidy via Flickr Creative Commons

The Problem–all’s quiet

The whole-class discussion scares the bejesus out of many teachers, especially newbies. Why? Simple, many students won’t participate. Is it even realistic to expect 100 percent of your students to join in-class discussions? Can we honestly believe that all students will speak or even raise their hands? We can bribe them with candy or participation points, but even this age-old strategy won’t entice the shy kids or those who walk into class with that “I’m-not-talking-under-any-circumstance” attitude.

Most likely, you’ll get a 20 to 30 percent participation rate; on really good days, maybe half of your kids will humor you. This leaves 10-20 students staring into space, doing nothing or, worse, being a thorn in your side. Engagement is critical to the success of any lesson. In order to engage all students in the room, they must first be willing to participate.

The Hack–go mobile

Move your classroom chat to the web, either on mobile devices or desktop computers. Mobilizing your in-class discussion may seem strange. If all students and the teacher are together in a face-to-face setting, you may wonder, what sense does it make to chat online? The simple solution (we love these here at Hack Learning) lies directly within the name of this Hack: every single student in the room will flock to the online chat. The logic behind this is a bit more complex.

There’s very little solid research explaining why your shiest kid–the one who will never open her mouth no matter how much you goad her–makes huge contributions to a digital chat. Trust me, though, she will. I used the digital chat with a classroom blog, message board or web tool like, TodaysMeeet, and every single student participated. That’s right, 100 percent participation.

I asked many students why they’d communicate online but not when called upon, and I was often met with shrugs and a simple, “I don’t know; I just like posting online.”

What To Do Tomorrow

The easiest way to take your conversation mobile is to create a conversation with a simple online tool like TodaysMeet, Twitter or another social network.

Put students on desktops, laptops, tablets, a mobile device or a combination of these. You can build your environment for a lively online, mobile chat in seconds and have all students “talking” in minutes. Here are a few easy steps to launch this hack immediately:

  1. Decide on a platform: TodaysMeet is easy, because it requires no registration. Just create a web address, like BarnesClassPeriod1, and TodaysMeet will set up a virtual chat room. If your students are on Twitter, use a hashtag to aggregate all tweets into the same Twitter feed–something like, #CivilWarChat. Be sure all students tweet to the hashtag.
  2. Explain the activity: At first students may think it’s weird to chat online, when everyone is in the same room. No need to tell them that your goal is 100 percent participation (don’t worry, they’ll participate). If you feel the need to justify the activity, tell students you want to create a digital record of they thoughts. You can easily archive the chat. TodaysMeet has a download chat feature and there are tons of tools to help you save your Twitter hashtag conversation (Storify) is a great one.
  3. Set simple guidelines: I had two basic rules for digital chats: 1-Students must contribute at least one original thought to the chat. 2-Students must respond to at least one other comment–this doesn’t mean simply retweeting it. If you have 25 students, this gets you 50 comments immediately. Now, that’s a powerful classroom chat.
  4. Discuss appropriate use: In a couple of minutes prior to beginning your online discussion, remind students of their responsibility when chatting in cyberspace. Here’s a very simple approach that applies to everyone, including adults. Tell students to ask themselves this question before posting any comment: “Would I say this in front of everyone in a public setting?” If there’s even a moment of pause before posting, then don’t do it.
  5. Teachers talk too: For there to be legitimate 100 percent participation in this amazing mobile conversation, teachers must post to the conversation. Students love this. Ask questions. Respond to individual’s comments. Add graphics, when possible. Identify comments you love and say simple things like “Yes!” or “Hmm., can you clarify this?” Oh, and don’t forget the occasional smiley face or thumbs up. Everyone enjoys emoticons.

Tell us your “hacks” for inspiring 100 percent participation in your class.

Hack learning with Twitter

Hacking Connected Education

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Hack Learning podcast on Stitcher



Two popular connected educators discuss the problem of the unconnected educator and share some Right-Now strategies for helping them plug in to incredible professional development on Twitter.

This is Hacking Connected Education. Please share your own ideas for helping unconnected educators get plugged in.

Hacking the test on Hack Learning

Hacking the Test Revisited

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Hack Learning podcast on Stitcher



Hacking the Test (Part 1) explains how a test is NOT assessment and how teachers can shift the conversation about learning away from the test.

In this Hack Learning podcast episode, we revisit testing and share a story about how a second-grade teacher and his 7 year olds discover that a one-time test says nothing about learning, and they provide a better alternative to the traditional test.

This is Hacking the Test (Revisited).

Please share your thoughts on Twitter at #HackLearning and in our comments below. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and engage there, too.

Hacking Digital Citizenship

A simple tweeted picture ignited an ongoing conversation about education technology and its place in schools.

Should we ban mobile devices in classrooms? Should we strengthen network filters? Or should we teach kids boundaries? Hack Learning creator and author of Teaching the iStudent Mark Barnes provides two simple steps for improvement.

Click image to find your EdTech Mission

This is Hacking Digital Citizenship.

Please share your thoughts on the podcast and ways to hack digital citizenship in our comment section, on Twitter at #HackLearning.

The One Letter Hack

What if you could change teaching and learning by taking one word or phrase and changing it?

In Hacking the Common Core, author/expert Mike Fisher reimagines teaching the Common Core, with his one-letter hack. Fisher replaces the “r” in “rigor”, to completely change the climate of today’s classrooms, even in a standardized world.

Fisher makes one wonder if it’s possible to change other areas of teaching and learning by shifting the language in other trendy education words. He suggests that major change is possible if teachers work together to come up with other one-letter or one-word hacks.

Do you have a one-letter or one-word hack? Please share it on Twitter at #HackLearning and/or in our comment section below.