Ever wonder if you choose certain students more (or less) often in class than others? Or would you like to be able to completely call on students at random?

A great technique is to make and use an index card deck with your students' names on the cards. On the first day of any of my classes, I pass out blank lined index cards (we use the 3 x 5 size) to all the students. I then have them fill these out with information we can use later on in class. Then I collect them and keep them separated by class with a rubber band. Then I can quickly access the names of all of my students. This helps for learning their names quickly too.

The random calling technique will increase your students' attention, since any one of them could be chosen at any time without you playing favorites or ignoring anyone. Always try to choose several students each time you use the cards, and everyone will quickly understand that they may be the next person called. No student wants to be embarrassed, so they will all formulate some type of response to give in case their card is drawn next.

What information needs to be on the cards? That depends on what you want to know about your students. I ask for at least their names, parent's names, and phone contact numbers.

In one upper corner, write in the student's hour (I also like to circle the number) so you can sort them out easily later. Other useful information could include text book or calculator numbers, birth dates, and even students' interests or hobbies.

How often do I use the cards? Several times each hour! We use the cards in warm ups so everyone has a random chance of being picked. The cards are used for choosing random teams or groups. They are great for class discussions, since students cannot just be quiet and disappear; every discussion question can be answered by several students in succession, who must either build on previous information given or generate a new line of thinking. I also use them to ask questions before students are dismissed. If the question is answered correctly, I let that student leave early.

The cards can be shuffled each time you use them, or you can leave the order and pick up there again later, ensuring you've called on every student before repeating.

Now, can you stack the deck? Of course! Because you hold the cards, only you know if you've chosen truly at random. This is useful when you just know a student isn't paying attention, or if you want to check understanding by a specific student.

Should you worry about students who still seem to never be called upon? That does happen, but it will even out as the year goes by. I've had the opposite happen too, where a student was actually chosen three times in a row, even though I shuffled the deck each time!

Student hobbies or activities can be great for making connections to class material. As a warm up or sponge activity, for example, use your cards to randomly call on students to state how what they learned in class could be applied to or connected to their hobby.

The cards are great for choosing students to read aloud in class. And as the teacher, you can still stack the deck to match up appropriate students with a paragraph's difficulty level. I also try to assess student's reading ability by choosing particular passages I want them to read aloud. Then I make sure the student's card is chosen.

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Frank Holes, Jr. is the editor of the StarTeaching website and the bi-monthly newsletter, Features for Teachers. Check out our latest issue at:

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