How to Pass the Hat
I call this the "pass-the-hat" strategy because it's a catchy title. In reality, I passed a paper maché vase one of my homeroom students had made for me. The point is, you can pass whatever you have.
The first time I tried this strategy was when I taught To Kill a Mockingbird in my 10th grade English class. My students didn't LOVE the book, but they didn't HATE it either, so that was a plus. I knew there were parts of the novel they didn't understand, because when I asked direct questions they would look at me with confusion or give an incorrect answer. But I couldn't get them to talk about the novel voluntarily.
So, I tried a new trick. I gave every student a scrap piece of paper, post-it note sized. I told them to write their names on the paper, along with a question about last night's reading or a topic they wanted to discuss in the novel. Having them write their names meant I could grade all of them on their participation in this activity. It also kept them from leaving the papers blank or writing stupid, unrelated comments about body odors (high school kids wouldn't do that, would they?). I told them that their comments would be anonymous to the rest of the class, and the names were just for me.
Then I went around the room with my vase, and I collected their papers. I came back to the front of the class and pulled the papers out one at a time, reading them aloud (but not divulging the names). Then, as a class, we would answer the questions or discuss the topics on the papers.
At first, I had to directly call on students to answer the questions or contribute to the topic. But eventually, they started to participate voluntarily. The papers gave us a starting point, so that no kid felt he had to raise his hand and ask a question in front of a jury of his peers. They received answers to their questions, and I was happy for the discussion. We all benefited, and we got through that novel unit with a better understanding of the book and each other.