How do I get involved in classroom discussions without sounding stupid?

Sometimes it's really hard to say something in class. Maybe you can't think of anything interesting or cool enough to say, or after you've formulated a good comment, the discussion has moved on. Or worse, some pulls a Rachel and says what you were just thinking of. So you just sit and grow frustrated because you have plenty to say and no chance to say it. And to make matters worse, you know that English and history are subjects where participation really matters, which makes the pressure build even more. Participation can mean the difference between an A and B, so if you don't get a word in edgewise, you'll lose out on easy points. So here are some tips to getting your participation groove on:
  • Don't be shy. Every person in your class is getting a grade for his or her class participation, or lack thereof. So almost everyone will be talking, or trying to talk about the subject at hand. A discussion is a great way to firm up your understanding of a book, so get your questions, answers, and opinions out there.

  • Plan, plan, and plan some more. As you're reading or reviewing, get in the habit of making notes in the margins or putting a sticky-on note to mark a place that holds interest, that you have a question on, or that you just like. By doing this, in the middle of the discussion the next day, you can review your opinions by checking your notes, and look savvy by referencing particular names and facts.

  • Don't ad lib. Remember that it's a fine line between looking smart and looking, well, not so smart. So unless you are very sure of the material, don't say the first thing that pops into your head. Tangents can be good, but more often than not, they are pointless.

  • Think before you speak. Before you open your mouth, make sure that what you are saying not only relates to the topic, but to the discussion. It's a delicate balance — you have to talk in class, but you want to be useful in discussion rather than that guy in the back who relates everything back to American Idol, the football field, or his cat Sparky.

  • Be prepared to follow up. You may think that you've just given the class the greatest insight ever, but if your teacher decides to press you on the particulars of your statement, you could end up embarrassing yourself. If you don't know how the story ends or who won the war, it will show.

  • Talk straight and to the point. Nobody likes a gasbag. Lectures are for teachers to give, not students. If the teacher asks you a question, answer it, but don't elaborate unless you're asked to do so.

  • Don't take it personally. If you get something wrong in a class discussion, and the teacher or another student points out your error, accept the correction with grace. Don't get huffy or sit there and pout for the rest of the class. How you accept criticism is just as important as getting the answer right.

  • Don't joke around. Humor can make class discussion livelier, but it can also make you look foolish and silly, especially in the eyes of the teacher. It can also make you look like you don't know the subject or haven't done the reading and that you're trying to cover it up.

Finally, find comfort in knowing that everyone in your class, whether they look like it or not, is on your level and is there to learn something. So get out there, say your piece, and chill out, knowing that you have taken care of one important part of your grade.