I am a student in a rather small (20-40 students) lecture. This lecture is mandatory for the students of this subject in this semester. In the course of the lecture the professor regularly asks students questions or encourages them to theorize about possible solutions to a problem before revealing the proper solution. Usually only about five of the students raise their hands and give answers. I am one of them and maybe the one who participates the most. I partly studied this subject before so I have a little more knowledge than the others but I am also genuinely interested in the subject while most of the others seem to find it boring and are only there to be able to pass the exam.

I often hesitate raising my hand or don't do it at all because I feel like I answer most of the questions and almost get into a dialog with the professor while all the others sit around me, bored and maybe a little annoyed (I didn't notice any negative reactions). I also usually wait a bit after a question was asked and only raise my hand if nobody else did in order to give the others a chance to participate.

I feel like I am constantly restraining myself from showing to much enthusiasm in fear of appearing as a geek or a show-off. What can I do?

Possible duplicate: How not to come off as boasting or arrogant, if you are one of the few active students in a class? (only found this after posting)

  • 5
    Be a proud geek ;-)
    – vonbrand
    Oct 9, 2015 at 22:03
  • A good instructor will know how to manage this. You're part of the usual suspects who answer. One way for an instructor to get more participation is to give the class a few minutes to answer the question, to write the answer down, and mention before that she'll call on someone at random. Oct 9, 2015 at 23:53
  • 2
    One genuine issue is that the class is "required", so that people will be there who (probably misguidedly, even about their own welfare) don't want to be there. Unless you imagine that you can "re-educate" them, there is simply no way to "cause" them to participate at a reasonable level... For that matter, there is a bizarre (understandable in human terms) culture of feigned indifference or hostility to the very thing one is studying, to pre-empt the stigma of failure... Don't get sucked into that. Be polite, but don't collapse to the swamp of unresponsiveness that may be popular... Oct 9, 2015 at 23:53

3 Answers 3


A key question is - why restrain your enthusiasm?

Importantly, it does not really matter what the other classmates think of you - you are there for the interest in the subject, not for their approval. As you stated, you have not noticed any negative reaction - it could be a case that a few others in the class are benefiting from your contributions - and more than likely, the instructor appreciates your participation as well.

It sounds like you are polite, holding back and waiting for anyone else to contribute - that is a positive.

If you are still concerned, speak with the instructor, ask them if there are other ways you can help get the class engaged and of course, ask if he/she thinks you are contributing 'too much'.

What to do? Don't change, you have enthusiasm, you politely wait for others to answer before you contribute. (But as suggested before, talk with your instructor about your contributions).

Just to clarify, I am speaking as a practicing teacher

  • 1
    Sometimes professors/teachers want to hear from more that one student so that they can tell that understanding is more evenly distributed around the class. If only on person is answering, then maybe they are the only one who is getting it. This can lead to some awkwardness for both the teacher and the student.
    – Bill Barth
    Oct 9, 2015 at 22:25
  • 2
    That's why I suggested If you are still concerned, speak with the instructor, ask them if there are other ways you can help get the class engaged.
    – user41783
    Oct 9, 2015 at 22:25
  • Have clarified that paragraph (should be noted, that I am a teacher)
    – user41783
    Oct 9, 2015 at 22:29
  • 2
    This is a good answer. Just be yourself. Your future need not be held back by the actions of other students.
    – user42055
    Oct 11, 2015 at 3:47

I've been there!

In hindsight (I wish I had thought of this at the time) -- I suppose the mature thing to do would be to visit office hours, and put the problem in the professor's lap. The most polite way to do this would be with an I-message (e.g. I feel bad monopolizing the airwaves by responding to a large proportion of your questions to the class) rather than something that could be experienced as an accusation (e.g. The other students don't seem to be comfortable answering your questions).

The professor might at this point say, I've been frustrated about the low participation rate of most of the students -- do you have any ideas for how to encourage others to participate more?

Be prepared with suggestions, in case that question comes -- but don't offer any if it doesn't.

If you have a general tendency toward this thing that is sometimes called overparticipating:

  • Try to fit your level of participation to the level of the other 4-5 active students.

  • One way to do this is to put three small, smooth stones in one pocket, and transfer one over to the other pocket each time you participate. When you're out of stones, that's it for today, look forward to next class!

  • It is easier to inhibit yourself from raising you hand to be called on (or speaking, if it's an environment where people just jump in) if you have something to do with your hands (Rubik's cube, some tedious homework, some elaborate doodling or sketching, some knitting or mending, designing or solving a maze, etc.).

  • Perhaps you could respond to some of the questions with a question of your own that will hopefully elicit some productive mental gear turning on the part of those students who are somewhat following along. Ex: "I wonder if there's a way to reduce the three-dimensional problem down to a two-dimensional one...."

  • One possible outcome of the conversation with the professor is to agree that you won't call attention to yourself be raising your hand, but are willing to respond anyway. This allows the professor to manage how often they call you and/or save the harder problems which no one else is volunteering to answer for you.
    – Ben Voigt
    Oct 16, 2015 at 17:47

I have often marvelled at the fact that two students can enter university at the same time, take the same classes and both emerge four years later with a degree; but one of them will have learned very little, whereas the other will have emerged equipped with a huge amount of valuable knowledge.

It sounds like you are one of the lucky ones who will really get their money's worth (or their parents' or government's money's worth) out of your studies. You do not just sit in class as a passive spectator, but you actually take an interest in the material and actively participate in the learning process. That is the only way in my opinion to achieve true learning and acquire real knowledge that will stay with you not just for a few weeks or months but for many years after you have taken your exam.

So, you ask: What can I do? The answer is, do not worry what people think, but instead just keep doing precisely what you're doing. It is not you, but the other students in the class who should be coming here and posting concerned questions like What can I do to get more out of my degree? My answer to them would be: do what @problemofficer is doing!

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .