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Creating Positive Student-Teacher and Student-Student Interaction

By Derek Berger

Berger (1)Posing a thought provoking question to high school students is often met with the same result – the sound of silence. Even with gentle prodding, many students often choose to sit quietly and disengage rather than throw out an idea or opinion to our open-ended questions. Often times this passive behavior is caused by a fear that they may embarrass themselves in front of their peers or say something that is off target from what the teacher is expecting.

If you face this problem, here is a quick strategy using paper clickers or “Plickers” (and a smartphone or tablet) to engage students and foster positive and productive discussion in the classroom.

In order to get started, pick a discussion topic or question that students may have various opinions about OR a topic which students commonly have misconceptions. Next, set up a Plickers Poll ( and create the paper clickers provided on the website (these will allow the students to vote). Now, download the Plickers app for your smartphone or tablet. Then, run the poll in class and use the smartphone/tablet to collect the results. Once completed, show the live poll results to the students.

At this point, there will rarely be a time when only one student gives one of the answers. Thus, this poll identifies groups of similar thinkers in the classroom. You can now use the poll results to place the student into homogenous or heterogeneous groups (based on their answers) in order to allow student-student debate and discussion. You also can simply ask students who gave each answer to share their reasoning with you and the class in order to foster student-teacher discussion and interaction.

By simply starting with a poll, rather than a traditional open-ended question, students become more engaged and open to the discussion once they see the results and know they are “not alone”. Also, the poll results give the teacher a way to target student misconceptions and some quick baseline data regarding where the students are in terms of their understanding of the selected topic.


Derek Berger was the 2013-14 Teacher of the Year in Garrett County.