Working With Challenging Students: Active Student Response Strategies

Strategies for Active Student Response












Photo Credit: Superhua via Flickr, CCL 2012

“What did we learn about cloud formations yesterday? I’m looking for a quiet raised hand.”

How many times have I said something like that during the course of my teaching career? Too many to count. Asking questions of the group and calling on students with a “quiet, raised hand” is one of the most basic teaching strategies we’ve got. And I am not suggesting that we get rid of it completely. Students need to learn how to function in a group, listen while someone else is talking, and use socially appropriate techniques (such as a raised hand) to gain a turn to speak.

However, there are much more engaging strategies teachers can use to find out what kids know.  Today I am going to share some of those strategies as I wrap up my series about Kevin’s behavior challenges and solutions. All posts in this series are listed at the bottom in case you’d like the whole story.

When the college professors sat down to share their recommendations for changing Kevin’s behaviors, their final suggestion was to implement active student response strategies. Basically, this means that instead of one child responding to a question or prompt, the entire class responds. This is an improvement on hand raising, and is better than pulling names from a hat. Even if you randomly call on your students, there is still only one child responding. They pointed out that Kevin was struggling academically and rarely raised his hand. As a result, he was often “tuned out” during my lessons. If I did surprise him by calling on him, he was”put on the spot” in front of his peers and usually didn’t know the answer.

Implementing active response strategies would 1) Keep Kevin engaged in the lesson, 2) Give him a chance to self-check and receive immediate feedback and 3) Give me a chance to see how accurately he (and the rest of my students) were answering the questions. Here are three basic active response strategies I tried with Kevin’s class:

1) Response Cards– Students hold up a sign or card to show their answer. These can be pre-printed cards (yes/no cards, cards on a ring, etc.) or write-on cards such as student-sized dry erase boards. One of the professors (Dr. Courson) even had her husband cut up a piece of shower board so she could gift me with a class set of dry erase boards and markers. I was able to start using them the next day. What a kind gesture!

When I use dry erase boards and markers with my students, I have found the following procedures effective in managing the responses. First, I always give the students 1 minute to draw. Building in some free drawing time helps them to focus on the lesson when it’s time for them to respond. When the minute is up, I tell them that they will have one minute to draw again at the end if they do a good job following our procedures.

Then, I pose the first question. After giving them a moment to think, I say, “Write!”

Students write their answers on the dry erase board and then hold it upside-down facing the floor. They have to learn to be careful not to rub it against the carpet or their legs to avoid wiping away their answer. After an appropriate amount of wait time has passed, I say, “Show me!”

All the students hold up their slates facing me. I affirm the correct answer (verbally and by showing the correct answer on my own slate) and then say, “Erase!” Students use old socks or squares of felt to erase their answers and get ready for the next question.

It works well, is highly engaging, and gives me a much better picture of how my students are doing than the old-fashioned method.

Other response cards that I have used and found effective: laminated clocks- students could draw the hands on with a dry erase marker; miniature Judy clocks with hands the children can move, a set of cards on a ring- they hold up the correct card (examples include the planets, regions of the state, historical figures, vocabulary words, parts of a cell, digits 0 to 9 for “missing addend, factor, divisor” problems, etc.) 

2- Chat Time – also known as “Turn and Talk”– This is exactly what it sounds like- the students turn to their partner and discuss the answer. I have seen this widely used in Reading and Writing Workshop. It works well with open-ended questions, such as “What do you think is the main idea in this story? Turn and talk with your neighbor.” When using turn and talk, it is important for the teacher to move around the group and listen in on the conversations. Not only does it ensure that students stay focused on the proper topic, but it gives you a chance to hear their responses. You can then call on a few students to share their responses (having screened them first) but every child has had the chance to think and answer the question. Of course, you won’t hear every conversation but over the course of a week, you will get a good grasp on what your students are saying.

3- Choral Response– This is probably the simplest technique. The teacher poses the question and then says, “Think.” Students sit quietly. The teacher then says, “Whisper it.” The students whisper the answer. Finally the teacher says, “Say it!” and the students all call out the answer in unison. It’s not as easy to gauge individual student responses with this approach, but it does keep all students engaged in responding. (*You can skip the “whisper” step. Or, you can just have them whisper the answer quietly and skip the louder response. You can also have them “shout it,” “sing it,” “robot-speak it”, etc. Another variation is to ask a question and then say, “Tell your neighbor. Now tell me.” It’s fun to mix it up.)

There are many other ways to invite active responses from our students. What is your favorite? I’d love for you to share it in the comments!

Posts in this Series:

What About Tyke: Managing Challenging Student Behavior

Working with Challenging Students: Increase Teacher Attention and Support

Working with Challenging Students: Plan Intentional Movement Breaks

Working with Challenging Students: Active Student Response Strategies (this post)

The Arts Save: Kevin Takes the Stage

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Be Sociable, Share!


  1. I use thumbs up, sideways or down to get responses that measure difficulty with math concepts, homework or if a certain text was a “good fit”, I even use this to have students respond to read aloud selections.

  2. I used a plastic poly Pocket with different images on different colours for students
    To use there marker pens such as a clock face, dotty paper, hundreds,tens,units, number lines and number squares etc then students have to place the desired sheet under the plastic, use to show learning then wipe clean.

  3. Thank you so so much for these posts! I am going to start using these ideas right away!

  4. Carol Cook says:

    Thanks, Susan, for linking this as a reminder. I find it helps to think about the percentage of kids actively involved when we use these great strategies. I LOVE the puppet series – FUN and engagement are wonderful benefits from them.

    • Thanks Carol! It’s so easy to revert to “raise your hand if you know…” I caught myself doing it the other day. I have to really work at PLANNING for these strategies. Glad you are enjoying the puppets! Me too. :-)

Speak Your Mind


CommentLuv badge