Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pick a kid, any kid...

The curtain rises on a lesson in progress...

The teacher is rapt by the way the lesson is going. Johnny and Mary are eager and raising their hand for every question. Other students are following along but then you spot...under a fast asleep...

Okay. First of all, I never really had a student fall asleep during my lesson (yet) but I had an appraisal late last year and the discussion that followed got onto the topic of student engagement. I used wait-time and Think-Pair-Share but then I always called on the hands that were raised. Great for the students who were engaged and easily focussed but there was an unsettling flipside to my tact that her perspective revealed.

A student who wanted to zone out had a really easy escape plan, she explained:
Hand up = have to participate
Hand down = naptime!

I was crushed and devastated and appalled and set myself to do something about it at once.

The result was a small deck of laminated cards that were about the size of a business card. Each deck had a student's name on it. there were others in the deck that said "Hand Up" and others that said "Hand Down". Further, My class is split into houses (Yes, like Hogwart's! It's part of a school-wide program) so I have a few of each 'house'.

How effective is it, I'm sure you are dying to ask. Well I am happy to report it was fantastic. Dopey-eyed dreamers sat up a little straighter. Chatty Cathys were a little more attentive. A little anxiety can go a long way, I guess.
(DISCLAIMER: The deck of cards aren't the fix-all in itself. A teacher can't expect every student that is randomly put on the spot to have the answer, so its important to apply this tool with a sensitivity to that. Phew.)

After putting it into practice, The Deck (as it has been dubbed) is also great for choosing volunteers, picking line leaders, making teams, chopping vegetables, and washing dishes. Just kidding about the dishes. I was just making sure you were still paying attention.

That's it. I hope you found this useful. My apologies to Jimmys and Cathys everywhere.

Talking Points:
What other uses do you have for a deck of your own?

What do you use to maintain some level of random selection?


  1. Hi Liam!

    I tried what you had said, and made a deck of my own for my class. I introduced it this week and the students bought into it instantly. They said it was like a game! I agree that it is an excellent way of catching those students who don't tend to raise their hands, and keeps everyone totally engaged.

    I have used it on the mat during class discussions, and when picking students to share their work with the class. I tried having the last student pick the next student from the deck, and the kids thought that was the coolest thing!

    Thanks for the idea, it is really working well for me already! When I forget about the deck, my class is quick to remind me, since, as I've said, they completely love the system!

    Thanks again!

  2. Thanks for that, Lanny! I never thought of getting the last chosen kid to pick the next name. What a great idea! I will definitely be using that in my room.

  3. That is a great idea. My kids would love to be the one picking the next one. What is the purpose or how do you use the hands up --- hands down cards?


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