To Keep Their Attention, Keep Moving: Ways to Call on Students

by Denise Martin

Do your instructional methods keep all of your students engaged? Denise Martin believes that, even during a lecture, each student should be paying attention. She demonstrates and explains several methods for calling on students to keep them alert.

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Denise: Tricycle, trinity, trilingual, triangle.

Denise: I try to include action with what they’re doing, so get them out of their chair, up on their chair, on the floor. Those that think faster than others can do something to show me they have the answer, which also gives the slower students time to think of their answer. So it’s to make the ones think that aren’t thinking, and also to hopefully speed up the ones who are going to be slow about it.

Denise: Okay. So you have a seat. If you know what tri means, raise your hand. [Student]?

Student: Three.

Denise: Three.

Denise: And I try to be unpredictable, so they don’t know, so they don’t always know what to do, that way they have to listen to me and do what I said that time.

Denise: So, what does that have to do with geometry? [Student]?

Student: A triangle?

Denise: A triangle, yes. We’re talking about how you classify triangles. So from science class, [Student], what would classifying triangles mean?

Denise: Sometimes I get the whole class to call out. If I happen to notice that there isn’t a student paying attention, I might call on them. Depending on the level of the question [it] varies on who I will call on also. If it’s a newer lesson, and a harder concept, I’ll try to pick the students that I think will know the answer, and then wait to call on the students when it’s more of a review question for the ones that struggle a little bit more.

Student: Putting them in, like, ordering them with their similarities.

Denise: Yes, putting them into groups according to similarities. Now you can classify triangles by two ways in what we’re doing today. You can classify triangles by their sides, or you can classify triangles by their angles. How many sides do triangles have?

Class: Three.

Denise: How many angles do they have?

Class: Three.

Denise: Three.

Denise: Sometimes they are supposed to raise their hand and sometimes they’re not, and they’re supposed to be able to differentiate between the times when they’re supposed to and when they’re not. By the setting most times they know, or by my tone of voice. I don’t have a key word that they’re supposed to listen for. And so sometimes they thought they were supposed to call out and they weren’t supposed to and they did, and I don’t give consequences.

Denise: Okay, ignore the angles. We’re going to just look at their sides. Three ways that you can classify triangles by their sides. First of all, I’m going to attempt to draw one for you. So if a triangle looks approximately like that, look at the sides, and [Student], what do you notice about those sides?

Student: None of them are right angles.

Denise: But look at the sides, we’re not looking at angles.

Student: Oh, congruent.

Denise: They’re all congruent.

Denise: I call on a student, cold call them and they don’t know the answer, um, what I sometimes do then is call another student who I think will have the answer and then if I remember, go back to the original student and make them repeat the answer that the other student has said so that hopefully maybe it will stick.

Denise: Did you hear that word congruent? …they’re all the same. So all congruent sides: when they’re all congruent, what’s another word for congruent? Anybody?

Class: Equal.

Denise: Equal.

Denise: They have to see it and hear it, not so often write it as much, but that’s helpful too, but I very much am a visual learner myself and so, I think that affects the way I teach.

Denise: So, a triangle when you look at the sides and they’re all congruent, this side is the same length as that side and that side. Who would like to guess what the name of that triangle would be? [Student]?

Student: Similar?

Denise: But, what does congruent mean?

Student: Equal.

Denise: Equal. So can you put that—

Student: Equal triangle.

Denise: Equal triangle. Okay, you’re pretty close. Not equal triangle, but an equi—

Student: Equal-liminant.

Class: Equilateral.

Denise: Equilateral triangle. That’s called an equilateral triangle because all the sides are—

Class: Equal.

Denise: Equal.

Denise: Like in math class, yeah, if I have the answer on the board, instead of me just always saying it, I’ll point to it and make them call it out or even if it’s not on the board just repeat that.

Denise: So when you’re classifying triangles by their—

Class: Sides.

Denise: Sides, and all of them are the same length, that is an—

Class: Equilateral.

Denise: Equilateral triangle. When two of them are the same length, that is—

Class: Isosceles.

Denise: Isosceles. And when none of them are the same length that is—

Class: Scalene.

Denise: Scalene.

Denise: It’s very important to me that every student is paying attention, and so if I am going to just stand behind my podium and be boring, they’re going to not be watching. So I have to be moving so that I keep their attention.

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CONTRIBUTOR: Denise Martin

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