You probably already know that polling students during class makes lecture more interactive, while improving student learning. Asking students to work through problems in class increases engagement and attentiveness while providing an opportunity to practice with the material.
Timing can turn a good "clicker" question into a great one. Strategically placing in-class activities can be a great student engagement strategy.
Here are 3 of our favorite times to ask for student responses:
1. Before covering a new topic
At the beginning of lecture, or between key ideas, ask your students an ungraded question. This gives them a low-stakes opportunity to share their pre-existing conceptions or beliefs, and also will keep their attention as they follow along with your lecture to discover whether they were correct or not. For example, before beginning a discussion about tornadoes, ask students where they think the most tornadoes typically occur.
For more open-ended discussions, your opinion poll might not have a correct answer. Rather, students can share their opinions. Show the results to launch a discussion about why some students answered the way they did. For example, a political science instructor once asked his students when they felt the United States became a democracy. Some students answered key dates in US history (women's suffrage, the Civil Rights Act), while others indicated they still believed there was work to be done. While the question had no "right" answer, it certainly provided ample opportunity for discussion.
2. After a multiple choice or image quiz question
A well-written multiple choice question can assess student comprehension, but cannot reveal why students chose the answer they submitted. This means that some students may have submitted the correct choice by chance. Additionally, there might not be much insight as to why other students missed the question. For image quizzes, it can be easy to miss nuances that caused students to select the wrong region.
To help solve these pitfalls, pose a free response question that asks students to defend their answer to the previous question. Your students will think critically through articulation while giving you insight into their logic. As an added bonus, some students may discover the flaw in their logic on their own when pressed to defend their answer.
3. After letting students discuss a question
Sometimes, you might ask a question that many students will answer incorrectly. In this case, consider using peer instruction. Ask your students to turn to a neighbor and give them a few minutes discuss the question. Once student discussions begin to wrap-up, pose the same question again. When you show the results to the class, the answers will have shifted. If most students have answered correctly, move on to the next topic. Otherwise, have students discuss in small groups or as a class.
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