Best Practices for Calling on Students

How teachers call on students can affect class participation and student self-esteem. Students who participate are most likely more focused, better learners, and higher thinkers. Do you get no response from students? Or do you get the whole class answering or questioning at once? Teachers can cut down on the chorus of answers and hands raised.

Does this ever happen to you? You ask a question in class, and twenty hands go up at the same time almost immediately after the words come out of your mouth. And with these hands, comes a chorus of answers? Worse, perhaps they all just squirm and say, "Ooh Ooh, me, me, I know, I know." Who do you call on? What do you do? Do you just let this happen, hoping it will go away?

Note: Shy and reluctant students are discussed at the end of this article.

Do you try and make the best of it and try and single out a student? If they all speak at the same time, how can you tell who actually has the right answer? Another problem is getting the same person or persons, begging to answer the question. Or worse, not getting any hands raised. If you are a veteran teacher, chances are you have solved this problem your way. Students know to raise their hands and wait patiently for you to call on them. But some of you may need a little help!

If you are a teacher that has this problem, guess what? You are actually doing something right! Your students are eager to answer the questions you give them! So, don't beat yourself up, give yourself a pat on the back. You are on your way to engaging your students. Wait! You need to cut down on the chaos, right? Okay, here's is just a couple of little teaching scenarios that you can use to get the question and answer sessions manageable.

Here is a quick tip that you can begin to use now. When asking questions, pick a section of the room to answer. Such as, "Who in the back row can tell me the answer?" Then switch around. "Let me see hands in the first row." And so on.

Another thing to try, is to change the type of questions you are asking. If you get a chorus of answers all at once, you are probably asking very short questions that require no thinking. Or, an answer that is just memorized and ripe for shouting out. For example, "What year was JFK shot?" Asking a question like that for most teachers, would indeed get a whole bunch of hands raised. You need to save those short, easy, spontaneous answers for quizzes and exams. How about changing the question to one that requires longer thinking, such as, "What would be the first thing you would have done if you were Vice President when JFK was shot?"

Now your students must think a little bit. The answer cannot just be shouted out. In short, you need to change the questions you ask. Ask thinking questions. Questions that require a discussion, not shout outs. But some teachers like the shorter questions. How do you manage those and lessen the number of shout outs and squirming students? Read: Create High Impact Lesson Plans

Here is a small exercise you try. It does take a little planning. You will write 5 questions on the board. The first one is a little easier than the other four, and the second one is a little easier than the three that come afterward. The trick here is that you want most students to answer at least the first two in a short amount of time.

Next, you explain to the students that they are going to write out the answers to the questions on the board. After a very short time, that is, enough time for the first question only to be answered, you ask this question out loud, "Raise your hand if you are finished with number one?"

The students' hands go up. Notice you did not ask them for an answer. You asked who is finished. Now the magic begins. You have two choices. You can call on one of the students who has their hands raised, or someone who does not, thinking they will have an answer. The chosen student answers, and you tell them to get back to the other four. Nobody shouted out the answer!

For question number two, you do the same thing. Wait a very short time for most to finish. The trick here is that you want the students busy, not bored. You don't want anyone to finish all five, actually. After calling for hands for number two and doing the same thing as above, you now get to the other three.

Give only a short time and call on students again. Now they know the drill. So you might change the question to, "Raise your hand if you are NOT finished?" Read: Being a More Creative Teacher

You have your students in the palm of your hand now, because the fast ones, eager to answer are not the ones with their hands raised. But guess what? You can call on a student who does not have their hand raised. These students will now not know what hit them. Calling on students who do not have a hand raised!

How do you finish this? Your choice. You can go on to the other three. If you do, you need to immediately ask for students who are done with question three, let them answer, then don't stop and go right on to the rest. Hopefully, nobody will be done with number five and you can have a real discussion now. If you wish, you could stop and send the other three home as homework. There you go! You now have a teaching strategy for calling on students!

But what about students with low self-esteem, bashful, or nervous? Never embarrass a student. As a teacher, you should readily know who is shy, nervous, maybe stutters, or anything else that might cause them not to want to participate. Never cold call on thes kids. It will make it worse. Maybe inform them that you would like them to answer questions. Tell them when. Think of other ways students can participate. Can they work out a pronlem or question on paper, then write it on the board? Pair them up with another student. Get them both at the board. Start small groups and put students together accordingly. A shy student might we willing and able to participate in a small group of no more than 3. Be creative! There are more ways to get students to participate other than raising a hand and talking.

If you put good teaching in practice, and know your students, you will be able to get them all at least feeling as if they are important and participating.

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