Whole Group and Unison Responses

Use choral responses. Have students recite poems or share reading of short passages or lines from the text chorally (in unison). Singing songs or chants, reviewing (for example, irregular/sight words or math facts) with whole class response to flash cards or other such activities are examples of choral responses. During whole class instruction, make frequent use of choral or unison responses when there is one correct and short answer. While presenting, stop frequently and have all students repeat back a word or two. During choral responses, everyone in the group is actively involved and participating.

Direct Instruction Techniques

Special education teachers trained in direct instruction techniques are generally more familiar with this method than general educators are for eliciting unison responses from students. It is explained that there will be times when you will be asking questions that everyone will be answering at the same time (rather than raising their hands and waiting to be called on to respond). Students are trained (by modeling and practice) to respond to a teacher's question by calling out the answer in unison when signaled to do so. This method is used when there is only one correct answer and that answer is short.

Students are first focused to be looking directly at the stimulus (the teacher). The teacher holds out his or her hand as if stopping traffic (or arms up in the air), while presenting a question that has a short, single answer. The teacher continues to hold his or her hand still or arms in the air, pausing to give students time to think. Then the teacher gives a verbal signal (for example, "Everyone. . ." or "Ready. . ."), waits one second, and then immediately follows with a visual signal that has been previously shown to students (for example, a gesture of dropping the raised hand). At that signal, students respond by calling out the answer in unison (Archer, Gleason, & Vachon, 2000; Engelmann, Hanner, & Johnson, 1999). The types of questions can include providing examples and having students identify whether the example was a "simile" or "metaphor," a "proper" or "improper" fraction, and so forth. After students respond, a follow-up question for an individual response can be asked, "How do you know that?"

Another direct instruction method is used (the point-tap signal) when focusing on a visual stimulus (for example, reading a list of words on the board, reciting answers to math facts shown on the overhead projector). This method involves the teacher pointing to a stimulus (for example, a word on the list) and pausing for students to think and figure out the word. Then the teacher gives a verbal signal (for example, "What word?"), followed by a tap by a pointer next to the word. Students call out the word at this signal (Engelmann, Hanner, & Johnson, 1999). These direct instruction techniques greatly increase students' rate of response for these kinds of tasks. When incorrect answers are called out, the teacher can immediately correct the entire group and continue to practice as a group, without singling anyone out.

Note: A good technique for reducing impulsive student "blurt outs" and to build in more "think time" is to tell students that when they know (or think they know) the answer to visually signal by putting their thumbs up. Once a number of thumbs are up, call on students to respond in unison or individually. This is one of the techniques of educational leader Dr. Anita Archer (1997).

Hand Signals for Whole Group Responses

Unison responses can also be obtained by having students use various hand signals. For example, with thumbs up/thumbs down or open hand/closed hand responses from students indicating such things as "yes/no," "I agree/I disagree," or any other "either/or" response. Finger signals can be used as well. Teachers can pose questions, wait for students to think, and signal students to hold up a designated number of fingers to match their answers. For example, teachers can do quick assessments using multiple-choice questions in which students hold up the corresponding number of fingers rather than writing down their responses. The choices can be listed on the board. After posing the question, allowing for "wait time," and then signaling, students hold up the number of fingers that correspond with the choices on the board (Rief & Heimburge, 1996). Carolyn Chapman (2000) recommends a "Fist of 5" technique as a pre-assessment tool to find out what learners already know about a topic. Using a hand signal on a scale of 1 to 5, students self-assess: "How well do I know this?" Five fingers mean the student believes he or she has a high degree of understanding, and one finger means low.

Write-On Tools Other Than Paper

Most students (particularly those with ADHD, who often resist paper-and-pencil work) are motivated to work with colored pens and markers on dry-erase boards. Another way of eliciting unison responses is to ask the class a question, pause for "thinking time," and ask students to write their answers on individual dry-erase boards, individual chalkboards, or other write-on tools. Then, after a teacher signal (for example, "Boards up"), students hold up their boards for the teacher to see and quickly assess which students understand, and who needs extra help.

Students of all ages enjoy writing on the boards, and they can be used in any content area for short-answer responses (for example, solving individual math problems or equations, practicing spelling words). If used properly, they are also effective in checking for students' understanding and determining who needs extra help and practice. For dry-erase boards, a tissue serves as an eraser. For chalkboard use, it is very helpful to store a piece of chalk inside a baby bootie or sock, which serves as the eraser. Write-on tools can be kept in each student's desk or passed out as needed.

Pre-Made Response Cards

Another way to elicit unison responses is through pre-made response cards. Pre-printed response cards and fans are very effective in engaging students in lessons. They are a "hands-on" and motivating format for answer ing questions, involving all students, and significantly increasing active participation. Any pre-printed response card should be made easy for students to manipulate.

Examples of pre-made response cards include (a) cards with a single-hole punch that are held together by a metal ring; (b) cards that are held together by a brass fastener and opened up like a fan; and (c) single cards made of cardstock or construction paper that are divided into sections (halves, thirds, or quarters), pre-printed with a choice of responses. The answer is indicated on this card by placing a clothespin on the student's choice of correct answer.

Note: When the teacher poses the question, students select their answers by holding up the card of choice, placing their clothespins, or similar method of indicating choices. Cards should be designed with words/symbols written on both sides of the card so both the teacher and student can see when holding it up. Pre-made response cards or fans are very useful at any grade level or content area to integrate into whole-class questioning strategies (Heward, Gardner, Cavanaugh, et al., 1996).

The following are examples of some uses for pre-made response cards. Students can review such things as:

• The vowel sound heard in different words (a, e, i, o, u choices)

• The part of speech of a particular word within a sentence (for example, noun, verb, adjective, adverb)

• The math process needed to solve a problem (add, subtract, multiply, divide)

• Final punctuation mark needed (period, question mark, exclamation point)

• Social studies terms or concepts (legislative, executive, judicial branch of government)

• Literary term that a given example demonstrates (alliteration, idiom, personification)

Note: Teachers may wish to have the response card divided into three or four sections and laminated without anything written in the sections. These cards can then have multiple use by having students write in erasable marker the response choices for a particular lesson. A card, pen, and clothespin can be kept in each desk.

Vary the Method of Calling on Students

Students who perceive that they will be required to participate and respond to questions will remain more attentive. Sometimes teachers inadvertently neglect to call on certain students as frequently as others to contribute to class discussions or answer questions. One technique many teachers use to ensure they are giving all students in class an equal opportunity to respond is to write each student's name on either a deck of cards or on a tongue depressor stick. The cards or sticks are used to draw from when calling on students. Once a name is drawn, the name card or stick is put in a different stack (or container). When using this technique it is important that students not "tune out" and stop paying attention once they have had their turn. In order to prevent this from happening, it is good practice to draw names periodically from the discard pile of cards or sticks (those already called on). This way, students know they may be called on again at any time.

Students enjoy novel ways of being called on to respond, such as: "Everyone wearing earrings, stand up . . . this question is for you," "Everyone who has fewer than six letters in his or her last name, you may try to answer this question," "Anyone who has a birthday in January, February, or March may answer this one." Students from that group may answer or have the option to pass.

Build in Enough "Wait Time" to Increase Student Participation

Provide sufficient "wait time" (a period of teacher silence) from the time you pose a question until calling on the first student to answer that question. Studies first conducted by Mary Budd Rowe (1974) and others indicate the average amount of time teachers wait before calling on someone for a response is between one and three seconds (Sousa, 2001).

It is important to consciously allow at least five seconds of wait time. Many students need more time in order to process the question, gather their thoughts, and be able to express them. Partner strategies discussed below are excellent means of enabling all students to first share their thoughts and responses with another student, before asking individual students to answer questions in a whole class format. This automatically builds in extra "wait time" and opportunity to think about the question and formulate an answer. Try rephrasing, ask probing questions, and wait longer for a response. Ask students if they need more time to think about their answers. Tell students who cannot answer the question at that time that you will come back to them later—then do so.

Special Questioning Arrangements for Certain Students

Be sensitive to students who are often viewed by peers as poor students and who rarely know the answer to questions asked in class. Be open to making a special arrangement in private with a student to help bolster his or her self-esteem. You may try telling the student to go ahead and raise his or her hand with a closed fist, and agree that you will not call on him or her at that time. When the child raises an open hand, you will make every effort to call on the student at that time. This technique is reported to be helpful in changing peer perception of individuals who seldom raise their hands and often have fragile self-esteem. Other classmates are not aware of the fist or open hand signal, and only notice that the student appears to know the answer and wishes to contribute in class (Rief, 2003; Rief & Heimburge, 1996).

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