Calling on students

Classroom Management

It is very easy for a teacher to fall into calling on only some of the class to answer questions or undertake a classroom task.  Some students are very good at lying low and avoiding this kind of involvement.  The called-on group may not learn to listen to or wait for others; others may perceive them as your favourites.  If you are not sure how much you do this, have someone observe your class and tick off on a class list those you call on (remembering that your consciousness of being observed may change your more habitual behaviour).  

Here are a few strategies to address this:  

One of my favourites is the cup of pop sticks, each with a student name.  This is further explained, along with some useful variations and alternatives at

Give each student two or three tokens – collect one each time a student answers a question – the quick volunteers soon run out, and so others then have to step up.

Choose the first student eg Pat.  Next time you need to call on a student ask Pat to choose the student.  If Pat calls on Lee, then the next time Lee chooses. Condition – no one can be called a second time until everyone in class has been called on.  Risk – if the nominating student knows what the task/question is they may ensure their friends get what they can or would like to do or the converse.

Try not to be predictable when calling on students. For example, if you call on students across a row or in alphabetical order, students need listen only when it's close to their turn. There are many random number generators online eg .

It is important that you have thought about how you will move on without embarassing the student if the task does not suit the student called on, or if the student clearly cannot answer the question.

from the News & Views of

Anne Williams, Consulting Educator

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