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In my programming tutorial, I often ask a question to the class along the lines of "what is my next step?" or "should I do X or Y?". In previous years I've had lots of student participation, but this year I get nothing. I've adjusted my tactics accordingly - I no longer ask the class for a response. Instead, I propose a practice problem, give them a short time to answer it on their own or with peers, and then show my answer to the problem. Usually, students will ask questions about my approach at this stage, but very rarely will they offer insight into how they thought they should be solving the problem.

I had the feeling that the students didn't like my tutorial (or me), so I asked for and received anonymous feedback from them and it turns out they think it's great, with only a few helpful suggestions for how I can be more effective. So I wonder, is there any actual benefit to asking questions for students to answer openly in class, or is that just a recipe for awkward silence?

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    I like the way you dealt with the problem. Awkward silences are... awkward! // Here's an additional idea (which I have never tried, I'll be honest): as homework, ask the students to devise a short quiz on a certain topic. Collect them, and then select some of the quiz questions to be asked verbally at the next class session. Type them up and give one to each student to pose to the class. Have them give their answers either verbally or by writing on the board. Warn them ahead of time that you'll be doing this, and – aparente001 Feb 9 '17 at 8:36
  • say, "If anyone has severe shyness that would interfere with asking or answering, please email me or come to office hours." In other words, don't force anyone to participate if they're not comfortable. Also, allow students to trade questions with a neighbor if they want to. – aparente001 Feb 9 '17 at 8:37
  • I like the idea of having students come up with their own questions, and posing them to the class. I'm not 100% sure that this particular class will do it, but it's worth trying! – Michael Stachowsky Feb 9 '17 at 13:47
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There is an actual benefit of asking questions for students to answer openly in class, even so most of the times it definitely is a recipe for awkward silence.

There is a list of ten benefits from "Uses for Participation." (The Teaching Professor, 23.9, 2009, 4)

Personally, I think the benefits 9 and 10 are most important:

  1. Participation can be used to develop important speaking skills [...]

  2. Participation gives students the opportunity to practice using the language of the discipline [...]

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