17 01 2011

Primary school kids respond very differently to questions in shows than secondary school kids do. In a typical primary school your question will be met with straining kids waving frantically to get your attention, in a typical secondary no one will put their hands up and most of them will stare at their shoes.

Is there a better way to ask questions? You might want to try this simple technique: Think-Pair-Share

Instead of saying: “Who can put their hands up and tell me…” give the kids time to think about it silently by themselves, then time to compare their answer with the person sat next to them, and only then take an answer from the group. The benefits of this technique are three-fold.

Firstly, it gives everyone time to hear, digest and think about the question. Too often when using quick fire, hands-up questions we are playing a game called “who can guess what’s in the teacher’s head”. As a child it is impossible to concentrate all the time even if you are trying hard and it is much too easy to either switch off (someone else will give the answer anyway) or get lost (I missed that, what did he say?) with this technique.

Secondly, giving the kids a chance to compare their answer with someone else gives them more time to consider the question but also reinforces the point as the very process of sharing it embeds it in their brain. It takes the pressure off them as well as it allows them not to know an answer but still find the answer out.

Finally, by sharing after thinking and pairing you are much more likely to get a considered response and a response that has been considered by most of the kids in the room. Often, within a straining audience of primary school kids there are those who are hiding behind the enthusiasm of their friends. In a secondary school there are kids that want to get involved but who are too embarrassed or not confident enough. This technique catches the hiders as effectively as it gives confidence to the embarrassed.

If you want to you can ask for hands up when sharing but it is even more effective to just pick someone. No one can complain as they have all had ample opportunity to find an answer themselves or to take an answer from someone else. You can even take some more pressure off and increase the motivation to share by asking the respondent to tell you what their friend thought instead of what they themselves thought.

The most common objections to using a technique like this is that it takes up too much time and that it gives away too much control.

I think that the benefit in attention from a whole group is always outweighed by the small amount of time it takes to employ think-pair-share. You only need give 10 secs and 20 secs for thinking and pairing and the sharing is the same as the old technique anyway. And when you factor in that you shouldn’t get as many lists of wrong answers because the kids have had time to think it can even end up saving time.

Control can be a different matter. If you explain to the kids at the start of the show what you plan to do, if you give them a simple example to practice with, and if you have a way to get them back after their sharing (eg: holding up a hand, ringing a bell, fading out a piece of music etc) then kids with no experience of this technique will pick it up quickly. I have to admit that in certain cases of extremely distracted kids I have abandoned the attempts to use it but that is extremely rare.




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