Student participation in group discussions can be tricky, especially in my high school math class, even when using a name jar. And, while that is my experience, please stay with me no matter what level or subject you teach. This trick will help you increase student accountability through classroom discussions while keeping you organized and sane.
Sometimes, when teachers are leading a discussion, it is nice to have students volunteer to answer the question by raising their hands.
Other times, though, teachers need to guide the discussion more and hear from more students than just the ones willing to put themselves out there in front of their peers. From there, the name jar was conceived. Teachers put students’ names in a jar and pull randomly. (Or they use an app- it’s the same idea.)
The Traditional Name Jar
If you have used one, you know the immediate unease that enters the room when you pull the jar out. There is a tension that comes with students being unsure about the question they will get and if they will know the answer or not. (More on this in a moment.) This tension is not necessarily a negative thing. For most, it can be positive. Students’ focus increases, it gently pushes some out of their comfort zone, and it gives some students a chance to be heard when they would not normally raise their hand. It also provides the teacher with so much information as quick formative assessments.
There are some problems with the traditional system, though. 1. As soon as a name is drawn, the teacher has to decide what to do with it. If he/she puts it back in the jar, the teacher runs the risk of calling on that student more than once and not hearing from others. 2. If the teacher puts the called names aside, he/she loses that student. They check out. They have been called, the pressure is off…they’re done for the day.
So here is the solution to all your problems: A jar within a jar. Or in my case, a small cup within my bucket.
(I teach secondary, so I have multiple classes. I color code my classes, but you could use all one color if you have just one class.)
Now when I select a name and call on the student, I insert it back into the bucket, but I can choose to put it into the cup and know I have already called on that student or I can put it back into the mix with the rest if I feel I may want to call this student again. My choice. The students think it is just one bucket- they can’t see the cup. The students know they may be called again, so they never check out. It’s AWESOME and it scores big points with my principal during evaluations.
I mentioned that I would come back to the tension the bucket creates with the students. For some students, the bucket causes serious anxiety. I want students ENGAGED- not ANXIOUS! Here is my cure for that. Since I also want students collaborating, I tell students I am going to be using the bucket for questioning and then I give the students a chance to discuss with their table the problem set or idea we are discussing. I tell them to make sure that if they feel confused to ask questions to their peers until they feel like they could explain it to the class if they were called. This reduces stress, engages 100% of the students in conversations about the content with their peers, and it gives me great formative data. Win, Win, Win!
I hope you found the name jar with popsicle sticks to be a helpful and effective questioning technique. If you use it, I would love to hear from you! I would also love to hear about other effective questioning techniques you use! Please comment below!
Want more awesome classroom management and engagement hacks? Check out this post on how to get your students to behave when you have a substitute! Life-changing!