Journal of the Institute for Second Language Development

Journal of the Institute for Second Language Development




March 2006
Gender and Academic Performance in English Communication Courses
July 2007
A Case Study Of A Japanese Learner In The UK
September 2007
Course Blogs for Overseas Study Preparation: A Survey of Student Opinions
September 2007
An Emerging Japanese English
February 2009
Observations on One Japanese University's General English Program
December 2013
Incentivization and In-class Participation in the Japanese University English Language Classroom


Incentivization and In-class Participation in the Japanese University English Language Classroom

December, 2013


John C. Westby, (Bachelor of Arts, Doctor of Jurisprudence)

Associate Professor

Meijo University, Faculty of Human Studies

Nagoya, Japan


Classroom participation is vital to learning. Due to the difficulty in achieving high participation rates among students in Japanese university English courses, this research measures the effectiveness of incentivizing such participation. The results of this research indicate that incentivization can produce high rates of participation in the classroom.


In an article entitled Improving Class Participation by Asian Students, Indrawati Nataatmadja, Alan Sixsmith and Laurel Evelyn Dyson of the University of Technology, Sydney write, "Encouraging Asian students, particularly those with poor English proficiency, to participate fully in university classes has long been recognized as a major challenge." (74) The importance of participation in class is emphasized by those same authors who call it "a valuable teaching method to encourage a more active involvement in learning." (74) Another scholar, Scott Aubrey of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan has called for "specific classroom conditions that increase EFL students' willingness to communicate in English (WTC)…" He goes on to write that "Having a deep linguistic knowledge is no longer a sufficient goal for EFL students; students must strive for communicative competence in English as well." (237)

In order to increase participation by students in classrooms and thereby achieve the goals elaborated above, this research suggests the use of incentivized participation in the classroom. In particular, this research focuses on improving teacher-student interaction.


Participation rates in one Japanese university course entitled International Communication were analyzed over a three year period to determine the frequency of student participation when such participation was incentivized.

The incentive used in the research was to make the students' course grades dependent on their participation. At the beginning of the course, students were informed orally and in writing that 25% of their grade would depend on how frequently they participated in class. Students with few such points were later given oral reminders of the criteria. Points could be earned by voluntarily asking or answering questions in class. The correctness of their questions or answers was not considered in awarding the points.

The frequency of participation was then subject to statistical analysis with the following results.


Over a fourteen class university term, as can be seen in the following chart, incentivization resulted in the total elimination of students who did not participate at all. The number who participated only very infrequently was minimized to between 10 and 11 percent of students. Students who participated infrequently but still on average of around once a class comprised between 20 and 29 percent of students.  Average participation involved students participating as often as twice during a given class. These students comprised between 32 and 51 percent of the students. Frequent participators normally participated more than twice during a given class. These students comprised between 6 and 16 percent of the students. Finally, very frequent participators often participated three or more times during a given class. These students comprised between 8 and 11 percent of the students.

Figure 1.


This research demonstrates that incentivization such as that explained in the methods section above can result in high rates of in-class participation in the Japanese university classroom. In the author's opinion, the use of incentivization creates a climate in the classroom where the students expect each other to communicate and thus the students are more willing to communicate (WTC). The result is an increase and improvement in teacher-student interaction which will hopefully lead to improved language learning as well as better communicative competence on the part of the students.

Works Cited

Aubrey, Scott. "Facilitating Interaction in East Asian EFL Classrooms: Increasing Students's Willingness to Communicate." Language Education in Asia (2011): 237-245.
Nataatmadja, Indrawati, Alan Sixsmith and Laurel E Dyson. "Improving Class Participation by Asian Students." 2007 IRMA International Conference. Vancouver: Idea Group Inc., 2007. 74-77. Document.

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