Make everyone dare to speak in an inclusive environment

Everyone doesn't feel comfortable to speak in a larger group (especially online). It is therefore important to help students take the step to dare to speak in the group. Some examples of how to do this follows:

  • Introduction rounds: Hold a short introductory round where everyone tell their naims, maybe something they like to do, their best memory or similar. Keep in mind, though, that not everyone can celebrate Christmas, or have an expensive hobby. From an inclusivity perspective, be sure to review your assumptions about your students - so everyone can contribute.
  • My favourite…You can let people introduce themselves in relation to something that is adjacent to the content of the seminar - what is your favorite text of the ones we read? Experience of particularly relevant phenomena, etc. - this gives both a way into the subject and facilitates for the memory to remember the participants and their names.
  • Everybody says something: You can let everybody say something as a ‘round’ - so that everyone can comment on something, either based on the text you have read, or on the basis of text and other people's comments. If you do this, the students also learn pretty soon that they will need to be able to speak. It may feel awkward the first few times, but eventually you get used to it. In addition, you realize that you need to be prepared - there is almost nothing as strong an incentive as peer pressure.
  • Share your own insecurity. Don't expect yourself to be a perfect seminar leader. Let the students join in and help you make it a good seminar. One way might be to ask, for example, in the middle of the seminar (at a time that suits) if there is something you can do differently. You can of course do this orally, but there is also the possibility to use post-it notes that you collect physically, or virtually through the message function in Athena, for example, or via mentimeter. In zoom you can use the poll function and ask an open question and get anonymous answers that everyone can read. Act directly on what you get. Please also ask for suggestions at the end of the seminar.


Break up the seminar into smaller groups

Depending on the size of the group, you as a teacher can use the opportunity to divide the group into smaller groups. Research on groups shows that the size 5-7 is usually good, online 4-6 also works very well. If your teaching is analogous where everyone is in the same room you can divide people by numbers and give everyone a number so it will be random, or you can pair up those sitting next to each other. Online in Zoom you can divide people either by random grouping, or decide which ones should be in a group through the function 'break out rooms'.

Decide for how long the smaller groups will discuss and remember to give the discussions some kind of direction, so that each group has something to present, otherwise there is the risk that a feedback (if you had intended to use it) will only lead to different groups repeating same things. If you work online, google docs or padlets can be created and used for groups to document their discussions. Zoom offers that you take notes in the chat so that everyone in the group sees the notes. You can then encourage students to copy the chats into a prepared google document so that all groups can see the result.


Clarify purpose of seminar and the meaning of seminar competence

This may be obvious to most of us teachers, but if you are new to a university study context you may need clarification of what a seminar means. Therefore, always start the seminar by talking about what the purpose is. Of course, there are different seminar cultures at different institutions and departments, and students who have previously studied at other departments may think that you do it the same way as they have previously experienced, and become confused. When you are confused, you are often silenced, or perhaps upset. Therefore, facilitate by being transparent with how you usually do and what you expect from students.

In a seminar we would like everyone to be able to contribute. There are several ways to make this possible, and some have been pointed out above in the section daring to speak. Below are some points that may be worth pointing out to students. They are taken from research on team competence, but they also work in this context:

Seminar competence means:

  1. Be prepared
  2. Try to contribute
  3. Help your students contribute! - even those who are a little shy, or have difficulty with the language
  4. Listen to what others have to say
  5. Take the opportunity as a learning opportunity

The above points can also be used to evaluate a seminar jointly at the end of the seminar, both in terms of one and the other, as a group, so that the members of the seminar gradually develop their seminar skills.


Seminar format variation

This is something that may be primarily aimed at in higher-level courses, when a seminar culture has already been established among students. For undergraduate students, it may feel safe to have the same form of seminar over and over again. However, below are some examples of how to vary a seminar.


Reading logs

Instruct students to identify 2-3 sentences from the readings that they find particularly interesting, provocative, difficult, etc. Ask them to write a brief motivation as to why they chose that particular quote. As the seminar begins ask students in smaller group of 3-4 to share their quotes and motivations with other students, either in writing to receive written comments (can be done in google doc or Athena) or verbally.


Fish bowl

Have smaller groups of students, 4-6, discuss the content of texts they read for 10 minutes. Everyone else listens and takes notes but are not allowed to interrupt. In a physical room the small group sits in the middle and the others all around. When 10 minutes have passed, the audience asks their questions and the smaller group takes notes. They are then given another 5 minutes to discuss the issues. Then you move on to the next smaller group. Good to give a little different discussion focus for the groups through different questions. This is also a possible model for examining seminars.


World café

Identify a number of issues to be explored by the group. Create different tables or virtual rooms for each question. Make sure there are options for taking notes in each room / table. Follow this structure: Each room/ table has 10 minutes for discussion of their question. All or one person takes notes on the note board/ a large piec of paper or the like. After 10 minutes one person is chosen to stay at that table/ room (the host) while the others go to another table / room. When the new ones arrive, the host briefly tells what the previous group came up with, with the support of the notes made. The discussion can now build on what the previous group came up with. A new person is chosen as host to stay. Etc., until everyone has been at all tables / rooms. Possibly the final result from the tables can be reported in the large group as a basis for a larger discussion.


For more examples, please see some different publications on the theme: