Increasing engagement with strategies that encourage random participation.

by Katie Brown

Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12


I believe that it’s important to increase student engagement in the classroom through random participation strategies.

We want to know as teachers where every student is in their learning throughout a lesson. If we are only relying on students who are raising their hands, then we’re only really relying on students who already understand the material.

Random questioning can take many forms that are not confrontational:

-I use popsicle sticks with kid’s names on them and pull them out randomly.

-I use numbered desks that I can choose randomly.

It’s important that students understand that to not know is expected at times and is a part of learning and that asking questions randomly is my way of showing that I’m accountable to all students.



What I did well…

I taught this lesson in a colleague’s classroom since I only taught a very small class of ELL students in my school at this time. We wanted to use a mainstream classroom to demonstrate what random participation strategies look like with a full room of students that includes students who are learning English. I think the topic was really relevant for students, so they were excited to engage in the conversation and pull information out of the infographic text. Another thing I did well was make sure I used the same routines as their classroom teacher (the popsicle sticks). This strategy is just one way to encourage random participation, but the students were familiar with this strategy and were comfortable with it. It’s very important that there is a classroom culture of trust prior to using random participation so students feel safe to share their ideas when called upon.

What I would do more of, better, or differently…

I wish a student in this lesson would have said, “I don’t know,” or “I’m not sure” when they were randomly called on using the popsicle sticks. I was hoping that this would happen so I could show how I respond and how I still hold the student accountable for their idea. When I introduce the random participation strategies at the start of the school year with students, I make sure to tell the students that if they don’t know how to respond, they have a few choices. My favorite option is to say, “No problem. Take another minute to talk about it with your neighbor and I’ll come back to you.” Another choice is to say, “Let’s go ahead and hear from a couple other people. Listen to their ideas and then we’ll come back to you and see what you think.” It’s important that the student who was initially called on understands that they can’t opt out. The lesson here is that it’s ok to not always have something to say, that’s part of learning, but we need to be engaged with our peers and everyone has the ability to contribute. 

I still want to grow in this practice by…

I want to create high quality questions for students to think critically about and have academic discussions. The question for this lesson was actually pretty basic when I think about it: Why do teens use cell phones? Seems like most students could probably reflect on that without much critical thought. Also, I would like to help students start to take ownership of the random participation process. Students should be able to lead these discussions by pulling popsicle sticks and prompting their peers for ideas. I hope to help release that responsibility to them which also shows my confidence in their ability.


About Katie Brown

Katie Brown is an ELL Specialist, Teacher Leader TOSA, and the 2014 Washington State Teacher of the Year. She has been teaching for 12 years in Bel...

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