The introvert’s guide to class participation

a student raises her hand in a classroom discussion

Ohhh, the dreaded participation grade. It will forever and always be my greatest enemy. I have the ideas and I have the desire to participate, but it’s the actual execution that gets me. If you’re an introvert like me, you understand exactly what I’m feeling. Most of my life, being shy and reserved hasn’t been a bad thing, but when a portion of your grade in your college class is participation, it starts to feel like a punishment. Having experienced multiple “discussion-based” courses in college so far, I’ve learned a couple tips on how to be successful, and I’d like to impart my advice to you (from the comfort of my own bed, of course.)

#1. Sit near the front of the classroom.

I’m a twin, and I was really wanting to share that fun fact in my genetics class one day when we had a lecture about twins. However, imagining what it would be like to raise my hand and talk from the back of the room terrified me. All those heads in front of me turning around to watch me? Noooo, thank you. What I decided to do instead was sit near the front. That way I could speak at my normal volume, speak more personally to the professor, and not have to think about the rows and rows of students behind me.

#2. Prepare ahead of time.

Just because introverts have been known to not share their opinion doesn’t mean we don’t have them. Often times in my discussion-based classes, by the time I’ve had my thoughts formulated and gotten ready to speak, the topic has already moved on and I’ve missed my opportunity. To prevent this, I make sure to prepare ahead of time so that I have my thoughts well rehearsed and ready when the time comes. And, if you still don’t have a thought you think is worth sharing? Prepare a question for your peers to answer instead. It still counts as participation!

#3. Talk to your professor.

Introverts aren’t defined as people who simply don’t enjoy talking. We still really value interaction, but oftentimes, we prefer the settings that are more intimate and personal rather than fast-paced social settings. If you feel like the class discussion is too fast and overwhelming, go to your professor’s office hours. I’ve had some of the easiest conversations with professors spending one-on-one time in their small, quiet office. Going to office hours was my opportunity to introduce myself to them, share some of my thoughts that I was too scared to say in class, and in some occasions, come up with an alternative for my participation grade in that class. I had an Honors professor my freshman year who gave me the opportunity to email him my thoughts on each discussion that I couldn’t say in class. The more personal of a relationship you have with the professor, the easier it’s going to be dealing with that class.

Overall, the message that I want you to leave you with is that introversion is not a flaw. You are a talented and thoughtful student who simply prefers communicating differently. There are so many ways to ensure you’re participating in discussion classes and succeeding in your college courses — I am!


Jessica Sherwood is a second-year Biomedical Sciences major at CSU. She’s also a student in the University Honors Program, a member of PreMedica, the president of Active Minds at CSU, and an Admissions Ambassador. Outside of class, she enjoys arts and crafts, playing intramural sports, watching baseball, and volunteering.