Seminars are effective learning experiences as students learn more from talking and listening to each other than they do from listening passively to an instructor.  In a seminar, the instructor steps back and it is everybody’s responsibility to keep the conversation going, focused, and inclusive.

Confidentiality and respectful behaviour:

  • If the instructor does not raise these issues, ask the instructor to initiate a discussion on respectful behaviour in the seminar and on whether comments made in class by students can be passed on to non-seminar members.
  • Respect the norms set by the class or instructor on these matters.

Attendance, punctuality, and staying for the entire session are important.

Bring the proper edition of the readings, so you can provide and follow page references.

Preparation is key:

  • Consult the syllabus for what will be discussed that day.
  • Read the material and reflect on it in advance.
  • Consult the class web page, Canvas or the instructor for any focus questions to use in preparing for class.
  • Consider the material in light of any focus questions.
  • Think about relationships between the materials you have read and other material previously discussed in the seminar or common in the discourse of the field.
  • Take notes on points you wish to raise during the seminar and on anything that puzzles you about the material.
  • Ideally, discuss the material in advance of the seminar with one or two people.

Direct remarks at all participants, not just the instructor.

If you find it difficult to speak in the group:

  • Prepare ahead of time, in writing, things to say (e.g., answers to focus questions).
  • Make your points early, before the conversation “gets up to a full head of steam”.
  • Participate by asking questions of the group.
  • Consider attending the Student Learning Commons' Let's Talk Group to practice group participation.

Do not talk if you are unprepared or have nothing relevant to contribute:

  • It is OK to decline to speak, even when asked a direct question.

Good listening is just as important as making intelligent points:

  • Compliment speakers who have made good points.
  • Ask for clarification if someone’s contribution is puzzling.
  • Be flexible – adjust your participation to what is happening moment by moment throughout the seminar.

Remain alert to the group dynamics of the seminar:

  • Encourage others to share their views.

Behave respectfully:

  • Watch your tone, body posture, and activities while others are talking (e.g., yawning, whispering, eye rolling, doing other work etc.)
  • Be careful about interrupting someone before they are finished.
  • Challenge others or put alternative points of view on the table in a respectful manner.

Maintain the focus of the discussion:

  • Think about relevance before speaking.
  • If necessary, challenge the relevance of certain remarks and bring the focus of the discussion back – this is everyone’s responsibility.

Continually monitor your participation:

  • Are you speaking too much?
  • Is the group depending on you too much?
  • Do you react quickly and jump in with your views immediately?
    • If so, resist that impulse to jump in immediately, to give participants who need more time to reflect a chance to contribute.
  • Experiment with different styles of participation; resist falling into habits.

Talk about any serious problem, such as a personality conflict, with the instructor as soon as the problem arises.

What are seminar participation marks usually based on?

  1. Preparation – reading in advance, focusing on the issue of the day.
  2. Quality of contributions to the discussion – contributions that are relevant, intelligent, and challenge others in useful ways.
  3. Nature of interactions with other participants – listening well, encouraging others, asking useful questions, offering helpful follow-up remarks, keeping the flow of the conversation polite and relevant.
  4. Negative points – excessive digressions, indifference, over-eagerness to contribute, monopolizing the conversation, refusal to contribute, hostility, ridicule.


Acknowledgement:  Johnston, I. (2002). Participating in seminars:  Some introductory comments prepared for students in liberal studies and English classes. Retrieved December 4, 2007 from