Calling All Students! 4 Benefits of Engaging Every Student in Every Class

By Cindy Watson and Marcia Jacobs
Dr. Watson is a Senior Lecturer/Master Teacher at the University of North Texas. Her teaching practice and research centers around effective teaching, coaching preservice teachers to conduct action research, and the beliefs of future educators regarding the use of inquiry.

Ms. Jacobs is a Lecturer/Master Teacher at the University of North Texas. She teaches courses in exploratory teaching and project-based learning to mathematics and science preservice teachers at Teach North Texas, emphasizing high-yield instructional strategies and student-centered learning.

Questioning is a high-yield instructional strategy, but only when everyone has an equitable chance to participate. How are you calling on students when asking questions during your class? If only a few participate, a high-yield instructional strategy becomes a low-yield instructional strategy. Reflect on your own teaching practice by considering the following:

  • Are you calling on only those students who raise their hands?
  • Are you calling on the same students day after day?
  • Do some students shout out the answer at the same time before you call on them?
  • Do you find the same students carry the weight of the classroom discourse?

If you said yes to any of these questions, you are missing out on opportunities to formatively assess all students.

One of the easiest and most effective strategies for engaging all students is to randomly call on every student every day. Try it for a week and see whether it makes a difference in the type of responses you receive and whether it impacts deeper learning and classroom behavior.

Using this teaching practice consistently affords the following advantages:
  1. Provides a systematic procedure that is expected and easily understood by all students.
    Tell your students up front that they can be called on at any time. Choose a way to randomly call on individual students. Put the name of each student on either Popsicle sticks or index cards, or use an electronic application like Class Dojo to keep track of who has been called on and who has not. When practiced every day, students will come to anticipate and rely on this procedure, which results in the desired outcome of participation by all (Wong & Wong, 2014).

  2. Encourages every voice to be heard and acknowledged.
    Calling on students randomly throughout the learning process and not just on students who raise their hands demonstrates that you value every voice and that you expect participation by everyone. When students are called on by raising their hands, only the learners who volunteer are called on and there is a tendency to call on the same students throughout the lesson. It is common that the same students dominate the classroom discourse.

  3. Ensures accountability and assessment for all.
    When every student is called on in every class, the proportion of students who learn increases significantly because of the teacher’s consistent check for understanding of all students (Schmoker, 2011). Students are able to internalize and think critically by verbalizing their personal knowledge of the subject. Also, when students know their name will be called daily, they are more likely to come prepared for class and pay attention. Calling on every student every day creates anticipation, and an eager and energetic learning environment. (Gray & Madson, 2007).

  4. Minimizes behavior issues.
    Calling on students randomly through a systematic approach clarifies for students the behavioral expectations. Additionally, students develop critical social skills that are required outside the classroom (Bond, 2008).

If a student doesn’t know the answer, try any of the following ideas:
  • Ask the student whether he or she needs time to look up the answer, and then return to that student later.
  • Ask another student to answer, and then have the original student restate the same answer, if in agreement.
  • Ask open-ended questions that build on the student’s prior knowledge to help the student reach the correct answer.
  • If the student gives the wrong answer to your question, but it is the correct answer to a different question, point this out.

By consistently calling on every student, you are consciously encouraging an accountable and productive learning environment. To encourage positive participation, be sure to avoid sarcasm or negative comments.

Effective teaching is listening and interacting daily with every student. Always make sure each student eventually is successful in answering questions. If practiced daily, this easy-to-implement procedure contributes to a positive classroom climate where students know that your number one priority is their mastery of the content (Crespo, 2000).
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Bond, N. (2008). Questioning strategies that minimize behavior problems. Education Digest, 73(6), 41–45

Crespo, S. (2000). Seeing more than right and wrong answers: Prospective teachers’ interpretations of students’ mathematical work. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 3(2), 155–181.

Gray, T., & Madson, L. (2007). Ten easy ways to engage your students. College Teaching, 55(2), 83–87.

Schmoker, M. (2011). Focus: Elevating the essentials to radically improve student learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wong, H. K., & Wong, R. T. (2014). The classroom management book. Mountainside, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.